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The New Arab

Hariri returns to Beirut to commemorate father's assassination

A memorial flame stands at the site of the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri [AFP]

Date of publication: 14 February, 2016

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Saad Hariri has returned to Lebanon to take part in the annual commemoration of his father former Prime Mininster Rafik Hariri's assassination, widely blamed on the Syrian regime and Hizballah.
Future Movement leader Saad Hariri arrived to Beirut early Sunday morning to participate in the 11th anniversary of his father’s assassination, late former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Lebanon's The Daily Star has reported.

Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive bombing in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005, an event which shook the country and resulted in the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence that dates back to the civil war, but which many Lebanese saw as a military occupation.

The former premier's killing also left the country divided between the pro-Syrian Iranian-backed March 8 and the Saudi-backed March 14 coalitions, both of which have begun to crumble due to internal differences as a result of the presidency crisis.

A Special Tribunal for Lebanon was set up in The Hague in 2007 to investigate the killing. Hizballah members were accused by the court of being behind the assassination, something the party completely denies.

No one has yet been yet punished for the killing.

This is the third visit by Saad Hariri since he left Lebanon for security reasons, after his coalition government collapsed in 2011 when March 8 ministers resigned. He has been residing in Saudi Arabia.

Hariri's return follows deep rifts within March 14, especially between Hariri and his main March 14 ally Christian leader Samir Geagea over the presidential crisis.

Hariri is thought to back March 8 rival, Marada Movement head Sleiman Franjieh for president, while Geagea has nominated General Michel Aoun for Lebanon's top post

Hariri's Future Movement is facing a delcine in popularity among supporters, most of whom are Sunni, following accusations it has surrendered to Hizballah and is unable to protect their community

Closing ranks

Sources close to Hariri told The New Arab he intends to remain in Lebanon for a few weeks, saying he would be focusing on reuniting his political party that is currently going though sharp divisions.

Hariri's Future Movement is facing a delcine in popularity among supporters, most of whom are Sunni, following accusations it has surrendered to Hizballah and is unable to protect their community.

The Future Movement is also grappling with financial problems that has left it unable to offer patronage and services to its supporters, or sustain its media apparatus.

The internal differences recently emerged in public, as Future Movement "hawks" like Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi openly criticised Saad Hariri on the back of his support for March 8 presidential candidate Franjieh.

Hariri's return also comes a few weeks before municipal elections are set to be held, which will be a test for the popularity of Lebanese political forces.

Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014. Its parliament extended its own term after failing to agree to an electoral law, and the Lebanese "national accord" government's work is marred by perpetual and often-irreconciable differences over key appointments and spending allocations.
 
Regionally, Lebanon, which has deeply been affected by the conflict in neighbouring Syria, faces continued contagion risks as Hizballah is embroiled in the war alongside the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Indications of an imminent military intervention by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which backs Hariri and his coalition, will no doubt add to the uncertainty fuelling Lebanon's crisis.

Hariri will make a speech at Beirut’s BIEL complex, where the annual commemoration is usually held.

Hariri's speech will likely put forward the broad outlines of how his political camp intends to tackle all these challenges.

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