A special UN-backed court has found two members of the Hezbollah militant organisation guilty for the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri in 2005, sentencing them to life imprisonment in absentia, after 13 years of investigations into the matter.
In the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s (STL) hearing today, its head – Czech judge, Ivana Hrdličková – made a final decision on the cases of Hezbollah members, Habib Merhi and Hussein Oneissi, handing down life sentences to the two men.
The STL, based in the Netherlands and funded by Lebanon and other donor countries, was set up in 2009 to investigate the killing of Hariri and find those guilty of his assassination four years prior, in a bombing which also resulted in the deaths of 21 others and the injury of 226 people.
The ruling comes two years after the STL initially cleared Merhi, Oneissi, and another suspect named Assad Hassan Sabra of any charges. Instead, it sentenced another man named Salim Ayyash to life imprisonment. Back then, it stated that there was no direct evidence of the involvement of Syria or its ally, Hezbollah, in the assassination.
In March this year, however, after significant outcry in parts of Lebanon and an appeal by prosecutors, the court rescinded that decision and found the two Hezbollah members guilty. The original and previous trial judges, it said, had “erred”. Ayyash, on the other hand, was acquitted and will likely not be held to trial again due to the STL’s serious lack of funding.
With its overall cost throughout the past 13 years being estimated to amounting to between $600 million and $1 billion, the STL has warned that it will close imminently, due to the shortage of funds. Its ruling in March and decision today were likely its last moves.
Merhi, Oneissi, and Ayyash are all currently in hiding and Hezbollah has refused to hand them over, meaning the former two were sentenced in absentia.
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