BEIRUT: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Monday unveiled footage allegedly intercepted from Israeli surveillance planes of the site of the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri prior to his 2005 assassination.
"Such footage generally comes as the first leg of the execution of an operation," Nasrallah said in a highly anticipated news conference broadcast via video link.
Several clips, each minutes long and undated, showed aerial views of the coastline off mainly Sunni west Beirut on various dates before the Hariri assassination, some dating back several years before 2005.
The alleged Israeli footage panned across the popular Hamra district, Hariri’s residences in west Beirut and parliament, his last stop before the killing in a seafront bomb blast.
The video clips, aired on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television, also showed close-up footage of a main highway linking Beirut to Christian cities north of the capital as well as to the southern coastal city of Sidon.
But Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who has been in hiding since his Shiite Muslim group battled Israel in a month long 2006 war, acknowledged the material was not absolute proof.
"This is evidence, indications … that open new horizons for the investigations," Nasrallah said at a lengthy press conference late Monday in which he spoke to reporters via satellite link.
The speech comes as pressure is mounting on Hezbollah over a Netherlands-based tribunal investigating Hariri’s assassination, which is set to issue indictments this year. If Hezbollah is indicted, there are fears it could spark riots between the Sunni supporters of Hariri and Shiite followers of Hezbollah.
The two sides have clashed before following political power struggles. In May 2008, Hezbollah gunmen swept through Sunni pro-government neighborhoods of Beirut, raising the threat of a new civil war.
Israel swiftly dismissed Hezbollah’s allegations.
"Nasrallah’s accusations against Israel are ridiculous lies," said Yossi Levy, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Hariri was killed in a massive Valentine’s Day truck bombing in 2005 that many in Lebanon blamed on Syria, which backs Hezbollah. Syria denies any involvement in the assassination.
Hariri, a billionaire businessman credited with rebuilding Lebanon after its 15-year civil war, had been trying to limit Syria’s domination of Lebanon in the months before his assassination.
The killing sparked massive anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon, dubbed the "Cedar Revolution," which led to Syria’s withdrawal.
Nasrallah said the tapes shown Monday were intercepted by Hezbollah between the 1990s and 2005, and showed Israeli reconnaissance footage of areas frequented by Hariri, including where he died. He said this proved Israel was tracking his movements for purposes of assassination.
Asked why he was presenting the material at a press conference as opposed to the tribunal, Nasrallah said: "I do not cooperate with parties that I do not trust."
The tribunal has not said who will be charged, but Nasrallah said last month he already knows that Hezbollah members will be among them. His July 22 announcement appeared to be an attempt to soften the impact of any charges.
He has said the tribunal has no credibility and is simply an "Israeli project," and that his group will not turn over any of its members for trial. But said he was willing to cooperate with the Lebanese government and present the cabinet, which includes two Hezbollah ministers, with his findings.
In response to questions about why Nasrallah chose to offer the material five years after Hariri’s assassination, he said the recent arrests of scores of Lebanese agents who were spying for Israel since last year has yielded information proving Israel’s deep involvement in a number of assassinations in the country.
Nasrallah said his group also has just learned of an Israeli spy who had been scouting the area of the assassination just a day before the truck bomb that killed Hariri exploded. The spy, however, fled before authorities could arrest him.