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Search for justice in Hariri case

Why an international tribunal released the only four people being held over the 2005 killing and what it means for Lebanese politics.

Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper in an editorial gave two theories on the release, the first being simply that that the tribunal was fair and not politicized.

The second theory was not quite so comforting.

After the Hariri assassination in 2005, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia threw their weight behind the March 14 movement. The movement, led by Saad Hariri, is a coalition of anti-Syrian political parties and independents, and named for the so-called Cedar Revolution, a series of anti-Syria protests that followed the killing of Rafiq Hariri.

The U.S. used its support of March 14 to put pressure on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, to disarm Hezbollah and to stop what the U.S. portrayed as Syrian indifference to fighters flowing into Iraq from its territory.

The theory goes that the generals’ release is part of an easing of pressure by the U.S. on Syria in order to coerce Damascus to make a peace deal with Israel. March 14 supporters fear their superpower ally will allow Syria to reassert control over Lebanon in any regional grand bargain for peace.

March 14 has good reason to be worried. The generals' release is the latest in a slew of defeats for the coalition. March 14 recently observed the one-year anniversary of the takeover of West Beirut by Hezbollah and its allies last May. That takeover ended with the Doha accords, which gave Hezbollah a veto over the government and was seen as a defeat for U.S. policy and March 14’s agenda in Lebanon.

And doubt has arisen over the stability of the March 14 coalition itself. Recent moves by Walid Jumblatt, Druze chieftain and head of the Progressive Socialist Party, indicate that the March 14 leader is hedging his bets. Jumblatt, who in the past has been referred to as a "weathervane of Lebanese politics," was recently filmed on a camera phone insulting some of his March 14 allies and criticizing Hariri. He’s made conciliatory gestures toward Hezbollah and its allies.

As Jumblatt has moved toward neutral political ground, U.S. officials have made several quick trips to Lebanon in recent weeks to assure the March 14 coalition that they have not been sold down the river in a deal with Syria.