Wednesday, May 30, 2007

NEW YORK — The U.N. Security Council today 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 of 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 today 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 the parliament in order to prevent it from formally asking the Security Council to act.

The council had already agreed in principle to establish the court for Lebanon, but today’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 that they could not approve the tribunal without the endorsement of the 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.

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