U.N.-backed court puts Hariri trial on hold

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The trial of four members of the powerful Hezbollah movement for the 2005 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has been postponed, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon announced on Thursday.

“A new tentative date will soon be set by Judge Daniel Fransen to replace 25 March 2013 as a provisional date for the start of trial,” the STL said in a statement from its headquarters just outside The Hague.

Judge Fransen agreed with defense lawyers who had asked for a postponement of the long-awaited trial in absentia of the four suspects, saying prosecutors had not yet given the defense all the relevant information to prepare their cases.

The lawyers representing Mustafa Badreddine, 51, Salim Ayyash, 49, Hussein Anaissi, 39, and Assad Sabra, 36, have also not been able to access prosecution material “due to technical issues,” the judge said.

The four men are to go on trial for the massive car bomb attack on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005 that killed Hariri and 22 others, including a suicide bomber.

The STL issued warrants against the four men in June 2011 and Interpol issued a “red notice” for the suspects, but so far none has been arrested.

Hezbollah has denied any responsibility for the attack, and its leader Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the tribunal as a U.S.-Israeli conspiracy, vowing that none of the suspects will be arrested.

Hezbollah is a close ally of Syria and the most powerful military force in Lebanon.

Set up by a U.N. resolution in 2007 at Lebanon’s request to probe Hariri's death, the STL is the first court of its kind to deal with terrorism as a distinct crime.

It is also the only current international tribunal that can try suspects in absentia.

But regional turbulence, including the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and the threat of that violence spilling over into Lebanon, have led many to question the court’s relevancy today.

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