Hezbollah rejects international probe in killing

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BEIRUT -- Syria's powerful ally Hezbollah was accused Tuesday by Lebanese political opponents of playing a role in the assassination of a top intelligence officer who used his post to fight Syrian meddling in Lebanon.

The group, which dominates Lebanon's government, rejected calls to refer the investigation of the killing to the international tribunal that implicated Hezbollah figures in the truck bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri under similar circumstances.

Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan was killed Oct. 19 by a car bomb that exploded next to his car in a residential Beirut neighborhood, also killing his bodyguard and a civilian. Scores more were injured, and the blast also sheared balconies off nearby apartment towers. The killing has sent tremors along Lebanon's most tenuous political fault line, that separating Syrian President Bashar Assad's allies and those who oppose him.

Lebanon's two largest political coalitions have lined up on opposite sides of Syria's civil war. The Shiite group Hezbollah and its partners who dominate the government have stood by Mr. Assad's regime, while the Sunni-led opposition backs the rebels seeking to topple his government.

Hassan, a Sunni Muslim, was clearly in the latter camp, and his killing has led to sectarian violence in Lebanon, whose myriad sects have strong ties to their brethren across the border. At least 13 people have died in clashes between pro- and anti-Syria factions since the assassination -- the deadliest Beirut violence in four years.

Lebanese investigators have yet to cast blame in Hassan's killing, but details of the plot made public Tuesday suggest that it was an inside job by someone who tracked Hassan's international travels and monitored the secret office he used to meet informants. Those details offered new ammunition to anti-Syria politicians who accuse the Assad regime and Hezbollah in the killing.

"I said from the beginning, 'Who killed General Wissam al-Hassan and was behind the terrorist attack?' They are the Syrian and Iranian regimes, through the hands of Hezbollah," parliament member Khaled Daher said on LBC TV.

Security officials say Hassan returned to Lebanon from Europe the night before he was killed, but traveled under a false name and told almost no one he was in Beirut. Mr. Daher suggested that officials at the Beirut airport, a Hezbollah stronghold, tipped off the killers.

Hassan's killing bore a striking similarity to the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a massive truck bombing in Beirut.

Noting the similarities, some lawmakers have called for the investigation into Hassan's death to be referred to the international tribunal set up to probe the elder Hariri's killing.

Hezbollah's deputy leader rejected these calls Tuesday, saying Hassan's killing was a crime that sought to destabilize Lebanon and should be dealt with in Lebanese courts. "Any attempt to add an international dimension will not do anything to this case," Sheik Naim Kassam said.



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