The U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has condemned what it described as an attack on its staff in Beirut, and said it would not be deterred from continuing its inquiry.
The special tribunal said Wednesday that two investigators and their female interpreter were gathering evidence connected to Hariri's death when they were "unexpectedly and violently attacked" by a group of women at a private Beirut gynecology clinic. The clinic's director, Dr. Iman Sharara, said the investigators and their translator had made an appointment to review phone files related to their probe.
The Hague-based court said Lebanese authorities approved the pre-arranged visit at the clinic, and that members of the judicial police and the Lebanese army accompanied the investigators. The tribunal says several items belonging to the trio were stolen and the staff members later received medical attention.
The tribunal's president, Judge Antonia Cassese, said violence will not stop the tribunal from fulfilling its mandate.
The U.S. State Department also condemned the incident. Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the "attack is yet another attempt to create a false choice between justice and stability." He said efforts to disrupt the tribunal's work should not be tolerated.
Police and the clinic's director said about 30 women stormed the clinic, shouting insults at the investigators and snatching a briefcase. Investigators said a larger group of women waited outside of the building.
The special court has been looking into Mr. Hariri's murder. He was killed along with 22 others in a Beirut truck bombing on 14 Feb 2005.
Many expect the tribunal to indict members of Hezbollah, the Syrian-backed Shi'ite militia that shares power in Lebanon's fragile unity government. The incident took place in a Beirut suburb that is a Hezbollah stronghold.