Experts: Hizbullah Image at Stake in Hariri Assassination Case

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An indictment of Hizbullah members in connection with the murder of ex-premier Rafik Hariri could forever tarnish the party's image as a resistance movement and threaten its raison d'etre, analysts say.

"Whether one single member or 100 are implicated makes absolutely no difference, Hizbullah won't accept it" said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a political analyst at the Doha-based Arab Institute for Research and Policy Studies.

"The impending indictment not only affects Hizbullah's constructed image as being a just organization," Saad-Ghorayeb told Agence France Presse. "It violates the very integrity of Hizbullah's identity .... its raison d'etre."

According to unconfirmed reports, the STL is poised to indict high-ranking Hizbullah members, a scenario rejected by party leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah who has accused the court of being part of a U.S.-Israeli plot.

All parties are currently banking on a Saudi-Syrian initiative, the details of which have not been made public, to prevent a full-blown crisis once the indictment falls.

"Hezbollah is a movement that has built its image around its fight against Israeli aggression," said Waddah Sharara, author of the book "The State of Hizbullah: Lebanon as an Islamic Society."

"Now, they might be accused of murder," Sharara told AFP. "It would be like a reversal of their image.

"Their message has always been that they are the strongest group, the most honest, and above all suspicion," he added. "Being challenged now contradicts their rhetoric."

Diplomats in Beirut say Hizbullah's fierce campaign to ward off the indictment and undermine the tribunal is linked to the fact that an accusation will undoubtedly deal a major blow to the party's image.

"The mere fact that the names of members can be cited is unacceptable to them because that would be a black page in their history," one Western diplomat who did not wish to be named told AFP.

"Whatever they do, they will always be associated with this crime which will be like a scarlet letter."

Experts say that even offers of an "honorable exit" for Hizbullah, in which any members indicted will be described as rogue elements, are not acceptable for the party.

"Hizbullah is a not a political party in the conventional sense, where if one member is accused of wrong doing, it does not affect the rest of the body," Saad-Ghorayeb said.

Added Sharara: "The party does not differentiate between the individual and the group.

"If one member is involved, the dignity of the whole party is at stake."(AFP)

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