BEIRUT, Lebanon, (AP) – Lebanon’s government received a draft document from the U.N. on Friday setting up an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a government official said.
The handover of the final draft by U.N. representative Geir Pedersen to Prime Minister Fuad Saniora sets in motion the process of creating a “tribunal with an international character” as authorized by the U.N. Security Council to try suspects in the bombing that transformed Lebanon.
Lebanon’s government could convene next week to approve the draft document, the next step in the process. The approved draft would then go to Parliament to pass it into law.
The government is dominated by anti-Syrian supporters of the late Hariri. But President Emile Lahoud, a staunch pro-Syrian, had objected to some points in an earlier draft and said it would not pass without his approval.
The government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no official statement, had no further details about the document.
The document’s arrival in Lebanon adds to the heightened political tensions between anti- and pro-Syrian groups, the government and its opponents. Rival politicians have been holding talks this week to try to work out differences and avert a showdown on the streets after Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah threatened protests unless its political share in the Cabinet is increased.
The anti-Syrian camp, which dominates the Cabinet, says the mounting campaign against the Western-backed Saniora is aimed at undermining the planned court. The tribunal would be made up of Lebanese and foreign judges.
The U.N. investigation into Hariri’s February 2005 killing has implicated top Syrian officials, but Syria has denied any role. Pro-Syrian politicians have claimed Damascus was being targeted for opposing U.S. policies in the Middle East.
Four Lebanese generals who were top pro-Syrian security chiefs under Lahoud, including his Presidential Guard commander, have been under arrest for 14 months for alleged involvement in Hariri’s killing.
Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a massive suicide truck bombing in Beirut, sparking large anti-Syrian protests in Beirut and international pressure leading to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon that ended a 29-year military presence. Elections afterward brought an anti-Syrian majority to Parliament and Cabinet.
Lebanese media reports Friday suggested the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority led by Hariri’s son Saad would accept giving Hezbollah and its allies in an effective veto power on key decisions in Cabinet in return for the guerrilla group and pro-Syrian allied factions endorsing the tribunal’s draft.
All-party talks were set to resume Saturday and if that deal materializes, it would make it very difficult for the president to oppose the draft document alone.
The distribution of the draft document in Beirut indicated that the major powers at the United Nations had resolved their differences over the matter.
When a draft document creating the court was circulated to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council at the end of October, council members disagreed on how to name the judges, according to a diplomat at the U.N.
Russia, a close ally of Syria, wants the Security Council to pick the judges so that Moscow — a veto wielding council member — has more control, the diplomat said.
Europeans and Americans want the U.N. Secretary-General to oversee the judges’ nomination, said the U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are private.
It was not immediately clear how the final draft settled that issue.