Lebanon postpones debate on witnesses who mislead UN tribunal

Lebanon postpones debate on witnesses who mislead UN tribunal

The Lebanese cabinet postponed on Wednesday a debate on witnesses accused of misleading UN investigators probing the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, in a bid to avoid more tension in the country, dpa reported.

The Hezbollah-led opposition and its pro-Syrian allies have insisted on a vote inside the cabinet on the issue in order to hand it over to the nation's highest court.

The opposition, claim the "false witnesses" were paid by their rivals in the western-backed majority, headed by premier Saad Hariri, to feed information that will implicate Hezbollah and Syria in the killings of Hariri and at least 20 others. They say they want to investigate who allegedly paid witnesses to feed false information to UN Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

A government source said after the cabinet session that "a consensus has been reached on postponing a cabinet vote on the false witnesses issue to a later session after a lengthy and heated discussions between the opposition and majority ministers."

Hariri was killed in a massive bomb blast in 2005 at a seaside area of Beirut. Hariri's allies blamed Syria for the assassination, a charge Damascus still denies.

According to the government source, President Michel Suleiman proposed forming a parliamentary inquiry committee to look into the false witnesses issue, but the opposition rejected the proposal.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah accused its pro-Western political rivals of protecting what it said were false witnesses.

"We denounce ... attempts to halt the process of uncovering who was behind these witnesses, who fabricated to destabilize Lebanon and harm Lebanon's relations with Syria," it said in a statement after a meeting of its parliamentary bloc.

Hezbollah has described the UN Tribunal for Lebanon of being an "Israeli project."

On the other hand, Hariri's allies have accused Hezbollah of trying to discredit and derail the tribunal, which is reportedly set to indict members of the Lebanese Shiite movement in connection with the assassination.

Hezbollah is part of a national unity government headed by Saad Hariri, son of the slain ex-premier.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah called last month on the Lebanese people and government to boycott the UN tribunal.

But Premier Hariri has vowed to back the tribunal until the truth behind his father's death is revealed despite pressures by the powerful Shiite group.

Observers feared that the standoff inside the cabinet could lead to the collapse of the government, paralyzing the political institutions in the country and repeating the 18-month political deadlock that led in May 2008 to deadly clashes between Hariri's allies and Hezbollah.

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