Syria, Hezbollah denounce plan for Lebanon tribunal
Allege it would hurt sovereignty
BEIRUT -- Syria and its allied Hezbollah group yesterday condemned a UN decision to set up a tribunal in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, warning that it violated Lebanon's sovereignty and would deepen the nation's political crisis.
The Hezbollah-led opposition in Lebanon ignored a government appeal for dialogue to overcome the impasse before a June 10 deadline set by the UN Security Council. If the Lebanese parliament does not establish the tribunal by then, the Security Council will impose it.
The tribunal has been at the core of a political crisis between the Western-backed government in Beirut and the opposition. Street clashes in recent months have killed 11 people.
Yesterday, Lebanon reopened the road where Hariri , a former prime minister, was killed in a suicide truck bombing in February 2005. Motorists honked in celebration, and a minivan driver stopped and kissed the ground, saying, "God have mercy on your soul."
US-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora had asked the Security Council last month to establish the tribunal, citing the refusal of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is allied with the opposition, to convene a session to ratify its creation.
Saniora called approval of the tribunal by the Security Council Wednesday "a triumph for Lebanon against injustice, crime, and tyranny," and urged the Lebanese to put their differences behind them, renew dialogue and work together.
But the reaction of Syria and its allies in the Lebanese opposition cast doubt that the factions would overcome their differences before the UN deadline. A UN investigation implicated Syria in Hariri's death, but Damascus denies involvement.
Hezbollah, the militant Shi'ite group backed by Syria and Iran, said the Security Council had placed Lebanon under "international tutelage, without decision-making and sovereignty in an unprecedented development in the history of sovereign states."
"It amounts to a flagrant violation that makes the resolution illegal and illegitimate at the national and international level," Hezbollah said in a statement.
Syria's government newspaper Tishrin said a UN imposition of the tribunal could have "dangerous repercussions on the Lebanese national unity." The newspaper said the decision was part of an American-Israeli effort to exact revenge on Syria.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has said Damascus will not cooperate with the court if it infringes on Syrian national sovereignty.
UN officials have said the tribunal could take up to a year to establish, and with the investigation ongoing, it remains unclear who would face trial.
Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals are under arrest, and a report by the chief UN investigator implicated senior Syrian security officials. Outrage after Hariri's death forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence.
The Security Council approved the tribunal under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which deals with threats to international peace and allows military enforcement.
Saad Hariri, son of the slain leader and head of the parliamentary majority, urged the opposition to engage in dialogue. But no opposition member responded to the overture.
Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, was skeptical that the international tribunal could "lead us to the truth" by identifying the assassins.
Berri, the parliament speaker, rejected US and British accusations that he held up the tribunal's approval in the legislature and expressed bitterness that the matter was taken up with the United Nations.
Berri has stressed that the government could resolve the standoff by ceding to the opposition's demands for a national unity Cabinet in which Hezbollah and its allies would have veto power. Saniora has rejected that idea and resisted months of opposition campaigns to drive him out of office.