Charbel Warns Trial of Hariri Murder Suspects Could Worsen Lebanon Crisis

Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel has warned that the trial of the suspects in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's 2005 assassination by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon early next year could make Lebanon's crisis worse.

In remarks to An Nahar daily during his official visit to Paris, Charbel said: “When trials start, there will be evidence that could affect the situation in Syria and could make the situation in Lebanon worse.”

The STL has indicted five Hizbullah suspects connected with the Beirut bombing that killed Hariri in Feb. 2005.

The in absentia trial of four of them has a tentative start date of January 13, 2014.

Charbel cited several other events that he said would put Lebanon in one of the most difficult situations yet.

He said the election of a new president in Lebanon, presidential elections in Syria, choosing a successor to Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani and holding the parliamentary polls were all decisive issues.

“They are directly linked to what's happening and what will happen in Syria,” Charbel told An Nahar in remarks published on Thursday.

The caretaker Interior Minister also warned that the process to elect a new head of state to replace President Michel Suleiman, whose term expires in May 2014, will be more complicated if the Syria war turns in favor of the Assad regime.

“The decision to elect (the president) is not in the hands of the Lebanese,” he said. “It is an international decision which in the past stage had been given to the Syrians.”

Asked about the security situation in the northern city of Tripoli, Charbel said that he had implemented a plan before his trip to France but he was criticized for meeting with the leaders of the hotspots.

“But what's the solution?” he asked.

He said the Lebanese authorities would either attack the warring sides or seek for a compromise.

“Bab al-Tabbaneh (residents) don't want the army while Jabal Mohsen rejects security forces,” he said. “So we agreed to deploy the police backed by a military unit.”

But Charbel issued a warning that any political dispute could lead to a military conflict given that both neighborhoods receive orders from abroad.

The two districts have been engaged in several rounds of deadly fighting, a sign of the Syrian war's spillover to Lebanon.

Bab al-Tabbaneh is a majority Sunni and backs the rebels fighting in Syria. Jabal Mohsen's residents, on the other hand, are from the Alawite sect of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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