Syria, Hezbollah Condemn U.N. Tribunal

By SAM F. GHATTAS
The Associated Press
Thursday, May 31, 2007; 4:00 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Syria and its allied Hezbollah group on Thursday condemned a U.N. decision to set up a tribunal in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, warning that it violated Lebanon's sovereignty and would deepen its 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 U.N. 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.

On Thursday, Lebanon reopened the road where Hariri was killed in 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."

U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora had asked the Security Council earlier this month to establish the tribunal, citing the refusal of opposition-aligned Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to convene a session to ratify its creation.

He called Wednesday's approval of the tribunal "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 U.N. deadline. A U.N. investigation implicated Syria in Hariri's death, but Damascus denies involvement.

Hezbollah, the militant Shiite 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 U.N. 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 would not cooperate with the court if it infringes on Syrian national sovereignty.

U.N. 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.


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