'Der Spiegel' Journalist Defends Article

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BERLIN, Germany - Der Spiegel reporter said he stands behind his newspaper's article and its conclusion accusing Hezbollah of assassinating Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

In an interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper, Der Spiegel diplomatic correspondent Erich Follath said his research was meticulous and he rechecked innumerable "authentic documents" before the story was published.

"[I] verified every single word before it went to print," Follath said, adding that he was not surprised at Hezbollah spiritual leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's response to the article.

In a speech marking the ninth anniversary of the Israeli pullout from southern Lebanon earlier this week, Nasrallah accused Der Spiegel of being part of the Zionist lobby, funded and manipulated by Israel.

"We see the Der Spiegel report as an Israeli accusation," Nasrallah said. "Der Spiegel belongs to the Zionist lobby, which funds its operations," the Hezbollah terror chief said.

Meanwhile, most analysts believe the report will have little impact on the upcoming parliamentary elections on June 7, The Jerusalem Post reported.

An unnamed Western source in Lebanon said Follath's article would "heat up the pre-election atmosphere."

"It will create a lot of buzz, a lot of speculation," the source said. "It may wither away if the [international] tribunal [investigating the assassination] continues to say nothing about this," he said.

"But if they indicate there is some truth in the story, it will create a lot of problems in Lebanon," he said, saying that "it will certainly heighten pre-election speculation."

Senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at Herzliya's Interdisciplinary Center Jonathan Spyer said some people named in the article "are no longer with us."

"[Capt.] Wissam Eid, who was presumably responsible for investigating the issue, was murdered last year by unknown persons so this person cannot speak about the issue," Spyer said.

The Hezbollah operative named in the article whose phone call sparked the investigation of the terror group has also "disappeared."

"We don't yet have the full story," Spyer said. "It's a very partial picture, but it's not the first time that people have suspected Hezbollah's involvement and it [the article] seems to raise plausible motives, so we'll see," he said.

Spyer agreed that the timing of its publication, a week before the elections in Lebanon, was not coincidental.

"Hezbollah has always been keen to try to play down its terrorist aspect," Spyer said. "They have always been keen to stress the political, social, educational and particularly [the] Lebanese aspects of their activities," he said.

"If [the article is] true, it would be a massive blow to these attempts," Spyer said.

Sources: YNet news, The Jerusalem Post, The Associated Press

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