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Updated: September 6, 2010 17:28 IST

Accusations against Syria were a mistake, says Lebanon PM

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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. File photo: AP.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. File photo: AP.

Lebanon’s prime minister said it was a mistake to accuse Syria of involvement in the 2005 assassination of his father, a major turnaround for a man who has long blamed Damascus for the massive Beirut truck bombing that killed Rafik Hariri.

Saad Hariri told the Saudi—owned newspaper Asharq al—Awsat in an interview published on Monday that “during a period of time we accused Syria of being behind the assassination ... This was a political accusation, and this political accusation has ended.”

Mr. Hariri’s office in Beirut had no comment on Monday’s report.

The late Hariri, a billionaire businessman credited with rebuilding Lebanon after its 15—year civil war ended in 1990, had been trying to limit Syria’s domination of Lebanon in the months before his assassination.

The death of Hariri, a former prime minister, sparked massive anti—Syrian protests in Lebanon, dubbed the “Cedar Revolution,” which led to Syria’s withdrawal of its army after nearly 30 years of military and political domination of its tiny neighbour.

Damascus has consistently denied any involvement in the assassination.

Mr. Saad Hariri’s comments come during a time of renewed Syrian influence in Lebanon. Since December, Mr. Hariri has made five trips to Damascus and both sides have urged reconciliation.

But in the months after the killing of his father, Mr. Hariri accused Damascus of direct responsibility for a series of bombings that killed Hariri and several anti—Syrian officials and journalists in 2005.

“The Syrian army withdrew, but they left behind their intelligence agents, and they are killing us,” Mr. Hariri said at the time.

Syria continues to wield influence in Lebanon through its backing of the militant group Hezbollah. Mr. Hariri and his pro—Western political allies are partners in an uneasy, power—sharing government with a bloc led by the Iranian—backed, Shiite guerrilla group Hezbollah.

A Netherlands—based U.N. tribunal had been set up to try those responsible for Hariri’s killing.

The first U.N. investigator into the killing, Detlev Mehlis of Germany, said the assassination plot’s complexity suggested a role by the Syrian intelligence services and its pro—Syria Lebanese counterpart.

But the two chief investigators who followed Mr. Mehlis have worked quietly and have not named any individuals or countries as suspects.

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