BEIRUT, (Reuters) – A U.N. move to set up a tribunal for suspects in the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri could spell more instability for Lebanon, Lebanese newspapers said on Thursday.
The Security Council voted on Wednesday to unilaterally set up the court, which is at the centre of Lebanon’s worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Leaders in Lebanon had been unable to agree on U.N. plans for the court. Lebanese politicians close to Syria say it will be used as a political tool by the United States.
Meanwhile, leaders who accuse Damascus of orchestrating the Hariri killing and other attacks in Lebanon see the court as a means to fend off Syrian influence. Syria denies involvement. “International justice confronts terrorism”, read the headline in the an-Nahar newspaper, which supports the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who had made establishment of the tribunal a priority.
An-Nahar columnist Ali Hamadeh said “the rope was tightening around the neck of the murderers” but warned the court “may not bring immediate security. It may push those harmed (by it) to threaten, intimidate and sabotage”.
Hariri and 22 others were killed by suicide truck bomb attack on his motorcade as it was passing along Beirut’s seafront corniche. The road was opened on Thursday for the first time since the Feb. 14, 2005 attack.
Critics of the tribunal’s unilateral establishment by the United Nations also saw trouble ahead, echoing a warning by Damascus on Wednesday that the Security Council’s move could plunge Lebanon into more instability.
Omar Neshabi, writing in the pro-opposition al-Akhbar newspaper, said setting up the court without consensus “raises serious concern for security and stability”. “The establishment of the court according to an international resolution and without the agreement of a large segment of citizens … widens and deepens the fracture among Lebanese,” he wrote.
Saad al-Hariri, son of the former premier, hailed the Security Council vote as a historic moment for Lebanon.
Hariri, who leads the anti-Syrian coalition which controls government, also said on Wednesday that it was time to put aside political differences and promised steps towards reconciliation.
The Syria-allied opposition, including Hezbollah, have yet to comment on the Security Council vote but have been highly critical of calls by Hariri and his allies for unilateral U.N. action to set up the court.
Hezbollah and its allies, including the Amal movement, have always said they support the idea of the tribunal but wanted to discuss its mandate.