The killing of Rafik al-Hariri plunged Lebanon into turmoil and marked the beginning of the end of three decades of Syria’s military presence in the country. The devastation visited upon the streets of Beirut also delivered apotent and painful reminder of the countries civil war.
The reaction was swift and dramatic. Thousands took to the streets of the capital proclaiming Hariri a martyr and declaring their opposition to Syria’s involvment in their country. The protests gathered momentum. The outcry in Lebanon, coupled with pressure from the international community, eventually forced Damascus to withdraw its troops.
But many Lebanese still feared the hand of their powerful neighbour. The continued presence of secret services allowed Damascus to exert a level of control over events in Lebanon, it was claimed.
When several other anti-Syrian figures, politicians and journalists, were targeted the finger of blame was once again pointed across the border. As with the Hariri killing Damascus denied any involvement.
Against this backdrop the UN pushed ahead with its investigation into the assassination of the former prime minister.
For some within Lebanon’s new government the UN’s decision to include other attacks in its investigation was a logical one. Justice Minister Charles Riszk said:
“The UN Security Council decided the widening of their attributions and the responsibilities and the scope of it, so now it embraces not only the assassination of president Hariri but also the other aggressions which took place since October of 2004.”
The tide of anti-Syrian sentiment that led to the troop withdrawal also brought about a profound change in Lebanon’s political life. An alliance of opponents of Damascus, led by Hariri’s son, Saad, triumphed in legislative elections last summer.
But it had to compromise with pro-Sryian groups in the creation of a government of national unity.
Hizbollah and Amal remain powerful forces within Lebanon.
Hezbollah is a partner in a government which wants it to disarm, in accordance with a UN resolution. Such internal tensions, obersvers say, are undermining the administration’s efforts to deliver the security and economic stability the population so desperately craves.