The militant Hezbollah group and its ally Syria denounced the United Nations on Thursday for its decision to establish a tribunal to prosecute the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Meanwhile, officials in Beirut reopened the road where Hariri was killed by a suicide truck bomb in February 2005. Mayor Abdel-Monem al-Ariss said the spot would remain “a historic symbol in the heart of Beirut.”
The tribunal has been at the core of a political crisis between the pro-Western government in Beirut and the Hezbollah-led opposition that has erupted into street clashes in recent months, killing 11 people.
Hezbollah called the U.N. Security Council decision a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty and “an attack on its internal affairs.”
“It amounts to a flagrant violation that makes the resolution illegal and illegitimate at the national and international level,” the Shiite Muslim group said in a statement, adding that the resolution placed Lebanon under “international tutelage, without decision-making and sovereignty in an unprecedented development in the history of sovereign states.”
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 the creation of the tribunal.
Berri rejected these accusations Thursday, reflecting the opposition’s bitterness over the government’s move to take the issue to the U.N.
Lebanon's president skeptical
Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, expressed skepticism over the tribunal’s ability to “lead us to the truth” and identify the assassins. But he said he would support the court if it was “fair and impartial.”
Syria, which has been implicated in Hariri’s assassination by the U.N., was also quick to criticize the establishment of the tribunal under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which deals with threats to international peace and allows military enforcement.
Shortly after the vote late Wednesday, Syria’s official news agency, citing an unidentified official, said: “The formation of the international court under Chapter 7 is considered as a degradation of Lebanon’s sovereignty.”
Syrian newspapers on Thursday also criticized the decision as an American-Israeli effort to exact revenge on Damascus, an opponent of both.
Assad warns over sovereignty
Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied involvement in the assassination and threatened not to cooperate with the tribunal if it infringes on Syrian national sovereignty.
Police cleared roadblocks in front of the 328-yard stretch of road where Hariri and 22 others were killed. The seaside boulevard had been closed for more than two years while the U.N. scoured the ground, adjacent buildings and the nearby Mediterranean Sea for evidence.
Among the first to drive through was a passenger minivan, whose driver stopped, got out of the vehicle, knelt and kissed the ground, saying: “God have mercy on your soul.”
Earlier, Carole Farhat, who survived the bombing two years ago, watched as laborers filled the bomb crater with gravel and paved over it. She said she was glad to be alive “to enjoy this moment.”
“I’ve come to see the spot where I was seconds away from death. It might be a good sign for Lebanon and for us,” said Farhat, who was thrown in the air by the bombing as she crossed the road. She lost much of her hearing and sustained injuries to her eyes.
Daniel Germani, an engineer who was also injured in the bombing, said the reopening of the road would allow his team to repair the famous St. George Hotel, which was severely damaged in the blast. Five hotel employees were killed and eight were wounded, he said. He estimated damages to the hotel at $10 million, saying they had yet to receive compensation.
Last chance for Lebanese body
The U.N. resolution gives the Lebanese parliament a last chance to establish the tribunal itself. If it doesn’t act by June 10, the U.N. decision will automatically “enter into force.”
Saad Hariri, leader of the parliamentary majority and the son of the late prime minister, and Saniora have extended a hand to the opposition after the tribunal’s approval. But ratification by the parliament so far appears unlikely entangled.
Saad Hariri said after the vote late Wednesday the decision was a turning point in Lebanon that would protect the country from further assassinations.
The vote is a “victory the world has given to oppressed Lebanon and a victory for an oppressed Lebanon in the world,” he said, holding back tears at the end of his televised speech.
Saniora, a longtime confidant of Rafik Hariri, also called the tribunal “a triumph for Lebanon against injustice, crime and tyranny.” He urged the Lebanese to put their differences behind, saying the approval of the tribunal was a “positive step” for renewed dialogue.