Tensions Mount in Lebanon over Hariri Tribunal

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BEIRUT - Tensions continue to mount in Lebanon in anticipation of the findings by the U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, AFP reported.

The former prime minister and 22 others were killed in a massive roadside bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is nearing the end of its investigation, which began in June 2007.

STL is expected to indict members of Hezbollah, the Shiite terror group that is now part of the Lebanese government.

Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, expects the tension to escalate following the October 13-14 visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Beirut.

"I think that ahead of Ahmadinejad's visit, the situation will remain relatively calm because Hezbollah does not want to sabotage the visit," Salem told AFP.

"The escalation will likely start after the visit," he said.

"The war of words will continue and then be replaced by a paralysis of the government and institutions," Salem predicted.

"Finally we could see street demonstrations and road blocks coming up as was the case in the past," he said.

Over the weekend, Syria arrested 33 people, including several Lebanese officials, for allegedly giving false testimony in the case.

Political Science Prof. Hilal Khashan of the American University in Beirut compared the arrest warrants to "a pressure cooker that has had its lid blown off."

"There is really nothing to stop things from escalating further," Khashan said. "The road ahead is very bumpy and it's clear the Syrians want the Lebanese government to discredit the STL and stop cooperating with the court," he said.

If the STL accuses members of Hezbollah, some believe a confrontation between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Lebanon is pretty much inevitable.

"[Prime Minister] Sa'ad Hariri will not bend in this case and Hezbollah is not going to back off," Rafiq Khoury, editor in chief of the al-Anwar daily told AFP.

"It's like two trains heading toward each other that will inevitably crash," Khoury said.

Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri, son of the late premier, has been mending relations Syria, a staunch supporter of Hezbollah, since shortly after he took office in June 2009.

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