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Lebanese PM: Mistake to Blame Syria for Hariri Killing

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri is quoted as saying it was a mistake to blame Syria for the assassination of his father. The killing of former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri in a 2005 bombing prompted the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon after a nearly 30-year presence.

Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri told a Saudi newspaper his accusations against Syria were political, and wrong.

The remarks are a stunning change in rhetoric from the Lebanese leader, who led the cry against Syria in the aftermath of the bombing that killed his father and 22 others.

In the months following the assassination, a popular anti-Syrian movement, dubbed the Cedar Revolution, and an international outcry over the bombing, prompted Syria to end its nearly three decade military occupation of its neighbor.

Syria has always denied any role in the killing.

The Lebanese group Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, said recently that an international tribunal investigating the case may issue indictments against its members. Hezbollah, which has ministers in the current Lebanese government, denies any involvement. It is also calling for Prime Minister Hariri to distance himself from the tribunal.

A tribute to assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, 01 sep 2010
A tribute to assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, 01 sep 2010

There have been signs Mr. Hariri has been moving closer to Syria in recent months, with frequent visits to Damascus.

Syrian President Bashir al-Assad and Saudi King Abdullah, whose country backed the anti-Syrian coalition in Lebanon, flew to Beirut for a high-profile meeting in July in a bid to calm tensions after word of possible Hezbollah indictments.

Council of Foreign Relations Middle Eastern Affairs Specialist Mohamad Bazzi says the Saudis, despite a Sunni-Shi'ite rivalry with Syria, now appear to think that a Syrian presence is key to stability in Lebanon.

"The Syrians are trying to send the same message to Washington and to the Obama administration that they need to be involved in Lebanon, and heavily involved in Lebanon, to keep it stable," says Bazzi. "They seem to have received the blessings of the Arab world to do that, through this Saudi-Syrian alliance that was sealed in this meeting in Lebanon."

Bazzi says it would appear with the potential of a conflict between Mr. Hariri and Hezbollah, the Saudis and others would prefer renewed Syrian tutelage of Lebanon to "complete chaos."