- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

NEW YORK — The U.N. Security Council yesterday approved the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in a series of Lebanese political assassinations, setting up a confrontation with Syria, which has said it will not cooperate with the new court.

Approved in a 10-0 vote with five abstentions, the panel will conduct trials for those accused in the February 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and a half-dozen other opponents of Syria’s influence in Lebanon.

The court, which could take more than a year to become operational, will include Lebanese and international judges and prosecutors and will function under Lebanese law. It is not clear how much the court will cost or where it will be seated.

Prosecutors will work with evidence amassed by a two-year-old investigation into the wave of assassinations, which has included the deaths of prominent Lebanese writers and politicians. An early report implicated senior Syrian intelligence and military officials, including a brother-in-law of President Bashar Assad.

Damascus has repeatedly said it will not cooperate with the international tribunal or allow Syrian citizens to be tried there. Approval of the tribunal had been held up for months by parliamentary maneuvers in the Lebanese parliament, where it was supported by the prime minister but opposed by the president and the parliamentary speaker — both allies of Syria.

These divisions were underscored yesterday when a member of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora’s coalition welcomed the council’s decision inside the chambers, while the deputy speaker of the parliament rejected it to reporters outside.

The tribunal was requested by Mr. Siniora, but the request was never ratified by the Lebanese parliament. The speaker, Nabi Berri, has refused to convene parliament in order to prevent it from formally asking the Security Council to act.

The resolution gives the Lebanese parliament a 10-day period to ratify the court’s creation, but its language assures that the court will be established regardless.

The council already had agreed in principle to establish the court for Lebanon, but yesterday’s five abstaining nations said they were worried that the decision could spark violence in a country that is already suffering deep sectarian tensions.

Russia, China, South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar said they could not approve the tribunal without the endorsement of parliament and that “imposing” the court would not help Lebanon’s stability or national unity.

“There is no legal ground for the Security Council to take over an issue which is primarily domestic in nature,” said the Indonesian diplomat.

But U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad argued that finding and punishing the perpetrators would ultimately be good for Lebanon, saying that doing something is less dangerous than doing nothing.

“By adopting this resolution, the council has demonstrated its commitment to the principle that there should be no impunity for political assassination, in Lebanon or elsewhere,” said Mr. Khalilzad, praising its deterrent effect.

“Those who may be tempted to commit similar crimes will know there will be consequences for perpetuating political violence and intimidation in Lebanon.”

The resolution was co-sponsored by the United States, Belgium, Britain, France, Italy and Slovakia.

The court will use panels of three judges to hear each case, including one Lebanese and two international judges, according to an annex attached to the council resolution.

The international judges and chief prosecutor will be appointed by the U.N. secretary-general.

Lebanon will fund 49 percent of the tribunal, with voluntary contributions from other countries making up the remainder.

The maximum sentence will be life in prison.

In Lebanon, joyful supporters of the slain former leader erupted in cheers, wept and even danced in the streets when they got word of the U.N. approval.

About 200 people holding flags cheered as some cried near Mr. Hariri’s downtown Beirut grave. A giant screen broadcast the Security Council vote live from New York. Dozens of people prayed before the vote was taken.

The Syrian government said the special court violated Lebanese sovereignty and could plunge Lebanon into further instability.

Syria stuck by its long-standing concern that the court would compromise its jurisdiction over any Syrians indicted in the Hariri killing.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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