While Lebanon’s neighbors backed mediation to end Lebanon’s political impasse, Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare submitted his indictment Monday for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“The prosecutor of the tribunal has submitted an indictment and supporting materials to Pre-Trial Judge [Daniel Fransen],” the STL said in a statement from Leidschendam, near The Hague, where it is based for security reasons.
“The contents of the indictment remain confidential at this stage.”
According to STL rules of procedure, the indictment will be reviewed by Fransen who then must confirm the charges before any arrest warrant or summons can be issued.
The judge may also reject the indictment in whole or in part, or ask the prosecutor for additional information.
Fransen should need six to 10 weeks to confirm the charges, after which a trial could start within four to six months.
Bellemare’s office, meanwhile, said the prosecutor would elaborate on the “significance” of the indictment in a videotaped statement to be released on Tuesday.
US President Barack Obama welcomed Monday’s indictment as key to bringing justice to the culprits.
“This action represents an important step toward ending the era of impunity for murder in Lebanon, and achieving justice for the Lebanese people,” Obama said in a statement.
“I know that this is a significant and emotional time for the Lebanese people, and we join the international community in calling on all Lebanese leaders and factions to preserve calm and exercise restraint,” Obama said, calling the United States a “strong friend” of Lebanon.
Also on Monday, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman postponed talks on naming a new prime minister, as regional leaders threw their weight behind a Syrian-Saudi bid to defuse the crisis.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met in Damascus for talks on the deadlock.
The three leaders “expressed their commitment to a solution to the Lebanese crisis based on Syrian-Saudi good offices, so as to… avoid a deterioration of the situation”, the Syrian SANA news agency reported after the meeting.
Iran’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also to hold talks on the crisis with Erdogan in Turkey.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was to travel to Lebanon on Tuesday to help mediate in the crisis, a diplomat said in Ankara.
Lebanon’s unity government collapsed Wednesday after Hezbollah and its allies pulled their 10 ministers from cabinet and one minister close to the president announced his withdrawal, providing the necessary number of resignations for the government to fall.
Hezbollah and its allies have for months been pressing Prime Minister Saad Hariri to disavow the STL on the grounds that it is part of a US-Israeli plot that will indict Hezbollah members, a move the party has repeatedly warned against.
Hariri is now heading a caretaker government pending the outcome of consultations due to start on January 24 between Sleiman and parliamentarians on the appointment of a new premier.