13 July 2007

UN Probe Hariri Assassination

UNITED NATIONS: A U.N. inquiry has identified people who may have been involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and is investigating new information about the buyers of a van used in the bombing, the chief investigator said Thursday.

Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz said a consolidation of information on Hariri's assassination and 17 other murders or attempted murders has helped identify "important aspects and individuals of common interest across several areas of the investigation."

Investigators have also "significantly narrowed down" their probe into possible motives for the assassination to Hariri's political and personal relationships with political leaders and officials in Lebanon, Syria and other countries, he said.

Brammertz said the investigators' working hypothesis is that events surrounding the U.N. Security Council's adoption of a resolution in September 2004 aimed at preventing Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud from having a second term "played an important role in shaping the environment in which the motives to assassinate Rafik Hariri emerged."

Lebanon's Parliament ignored the council and voted hours after the resolution was adopted to amend the constitution so Lahoud could keep his job.
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The first U.N. chief investigator, Germany's Detlev Mehlis, said the killing's complexity suggested the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role in Hariri's assassination. Four Lebanese generals, top pro-Syrian security chiefs, have been under arrest for 20 months, accused of involvement in Hariri's murder.

Brammertz has not echoed Mehlis' suggestion, and did not provide any clues to those who may have been involved. He said Syria and other state have continued to provide "mostly positive responses" to requests for assistance.

In his eighth report to the U.N. Security Council, Brammertz signaled for the first time that the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission would be wrapping up its work and transferring its files and findings to the international tribunal, which the council unilaterally established on May 30 to prosecute suspects in the killings.

He said the consolidated reports totaling more than 2,400 pages — including a 2,000-page report covering all areas of the Hariri investigation — were prepared to help ensure "a smooth handover at the appropriate time in the near future" to the new tribunal's prosecutor.

The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the report on July 19, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

In the process of consolidating the commission's work between March and June, Brammertz said, investigators had obtained "an up-to-date bird's eye view of the different strands of the investigations" which enabled them to draw up new work plans, totaling 150 pages, with key objectives.

"The consolidation effort ... has helped identify a number of persons of particular interest who may have been involved in some aspect of the preparation and execution of the attack on Rafik Hariri or the other cases under investigation or could have had prior knowledge that plans to carry out these attacks were underway," Brammertz said.

"The commission will pursue this line of inquiry as a priority in the coming months," he said.

The U.N. investigation has confirmed that a single blast from a Mitsubishi Canter van packed with 1,800 kilograms (3,960 pounds) of high explosives — a mix of RDX, PETN and TNT — was detonated at 12:55:05 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2005 "most likely" by a male suicide bomber, Brammertz said.

"Ongoing efforts to determine the precise origin of the explosives and to ascertain possible forensic links with other cases will be pursued as priorities in the next reporting period," he said.

As for the van, it left a Mitsubishi factory in Japan in February 2002 and was reported stolen in the city of Kanagawa, Japan, in October 2004, Brammertz said. It was then shipped to the United Arab Emirates and transported to a showroom close to Tripoli in northern Lebanon in December 2004 where it was sold.

"The commission has recently acquired information regarding the sale of the van to individuals who could be involved in the final preparation of the van for the attack on Rafik Hariri," he said. "This line of inquiry is being pursued as a priority."

In previous reports, Brammertz said the suspected suicide bomber did not spend his youth in Lebanon but spent his last two or three months in the country. To determine the man's origins, the commission collected 112 soil and water samples from 28 locations in Syria and Lebanon, and 26 samples from locations in other countries which were not identified.

Based on preliminary results, Brammertz said, the commission's experts believe the man was probably between 20 and 25 years old, with short dark hair, and lived in an urban environment for the first 10 years of his life and in a rural environment during the last 10 years of his life.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.