The United Nations Security Council voted this afternoon to give the Lebanese parliament until June 10 to approve the sitting of the International Tribunal to try the murderers of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and others. Failing that approval, the UNSC vote means that they will invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and sit the Tribunal under the auspices of the United Nations:
The U.N. Security Council voted on Wednesday to establish a special court to prosecute the murder two years ago of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Ten council members voted for the Western-sponsored resolution and five—Russia, China, Qatar, Indonesia and South Africa—abstained, with no votes against. The resolution will go into effect on June 10.
The fact that Russia and China – two of Syrias friends and benefactors – failed to veto the motion is a huge victory for US diplomacy. Too bad it will never be reported that way.
The resolution became necessary when the opposition forces in Parliament led by Hezbullah ally Speaker Nabih Berri refused to call the legislative body into session to consider the law authorizing the Tribunal. Following a plea from Prime Minister Siniora to the UN, the Security Council has now issued what amounts to an ultimatum to the Lebanese parliament to vote on the Tribunal by June 10 or the Tribunal will be seated automatically.
The relief and joy of the majority March 14th forces is being seen all over the country:
Meanwhile, Hariri supporters celebrated the Security Council’s decision.
But the government appeared fearful that the celebrations would turn violent between pro-government and opposition factions. The Interior Ministry banned the public from firing guns in the air, releasing fireworks and using motorcycles from 8 p.m. (1700 GMT) Wednesday to 5 a.m (0200 GMT) Thursday. Some of the bomb attacks in Lebanon have been blamed on assailants riding motorcycles.
Security forces were instructed to implement the measures and violators would be prosecuted, according to the ministry.
Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri, also urged supporters to refrain from firing guns and called on them to exercise calm by staying home and lighting candles on balconies.
The slain leader’s supporters began celebrating in Hariri’s hometown in the southern city of Sidon more than six hours before the Security Council met in New York to vote on the tribunal resolution.
Carrying Lebanese flags and pictures of Hariri, supporters set up what they called “love checkpoints” in Sidon’s main roads and intersections handing out sweets and flowers to motorists.
And along with that joy comes the inevitable feeling of unease at what Syria might do now to block the road for the Tribunal. The recent clashes involving the Palestinian terrorist group Fatah al-Islam are widely seen by many in Lebanon and around the world as being inspired if not directed by Assad’s Syria. And as a sign that there may be more trouble on the way, Naharnet is reporting that a “ranking al-Qaeda terrorist” has been arrested acting as a Syrian double agent:
Lebanese security agents have arrested a ranking al-Qaida terrorist who was acting as “a double agent for Syrian intelligence,” a reliable source told Naharnet.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the suspect whose name and nationality could not be revealed pending completion of the ongoing investigation, was busted Tuesday at a hotel suite in Beirut’s district of Ashrafiyeh.
The “very dangerous terrorist,” according to the source, had crossed into Lebanon “illegally” overland from neighboring Syria over the weekend to follow up “coordination with Fatah al-Islam terrorists” besieged in the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
The suspect, according to the source, had “sold out al-Qaida in favor of cooperation with Syrian intelligence after he was offered safe haven in Syria.”
Last week, according to the source, the suspect “turned in to the Syrian intelligence a ranking Saudi member of al-Qaida known as Abu Talha. He did the Syrians a major favor that could help them boost their tense relations with the Americans.”
Abu Talha, whose real name is not known, is on the U.S. list of most wanted terrorists, according to the source.
After turning in Abu Talha, the Syrian intelligence command “sent the suspect to Lebanon to re-organize Fatah al-Islam and other Syrian-sponsored terrorists and sponsor a spate of attacks on a variety of targets in Lebanon aimed at destabilizing the situation,” the source added.
“The Syrians want to destabilize Lebanon and tell the Americans: ‘We can control the situation like we arrested Abu Talha. Strike a deal with us and Lebanon would be under control’,” the source said.
He said Fatah al-Islam terrorists arrested in north Lebanon “told investigators of the suspect’s moves and revealed important information which led to his arrest.”
As with many things having to do with Lebanon, this particular report is interesting but until it can be at least partially confirmed, caution is advised.
But it rings true to many observers who have witnessed Syria’s aggressive use of terrorist groups in the past to sow chaos in Lebanon. And it fits in with Syrias maximum effort to bring down the government of Prime Minister Siniora before the Tribunal can start to present evidence of high level Syrian complicity in the Harriri murder as well as almost two dozen other political attacks on anti-Syrian Lebanese.
For the government of Lebanon as for the people, trying to anticipate Syria’s next move in this campaign of destabilization is almost impossible. For in the end, the question on everyone’s mind is “What will Hizbullah do?”
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nassrallah has made it plain that he opposes the move to invoke Chapter 7 to sit the Tribunal. He has rejected every compromise to end the stand-off over increased opposition representation in the cabinet as well as various formulas for parliament to approve the enabling legislation for the Tribunal. But it would be a mistake to simply say that Nasrallah is doing Syria’s bidding. The Hizbullah leader has his own agenda which, in this case, happens to mirror the wishes of President Assad in Syria. And the fact that Hizbullah’s paymaster Iran has expressed its support for the Tribunal makes Nasrallah’s position vis a vis Syria delicate indeed. His reaction to the UNSC vote will be closely examined for any give at all.
How far will Assad want to take this effort to de-legitimize the government and bring it down? How far will he go in preventing the Tribunal from doing its work? The two issues are interconnected for Assad. He believes the only way to stop the Tribunal is to unseat the majority. He has tried intimidation, murder, bombings, and now terrorist uprisings. Nothing has deflected the majority from seeking justice for Hariri and others who have been victimized by Assad’s brutality. Could the Syrian thug now try and foment another civil war in Lebanon as a last resort? Anything is possible with Assad who must see the Tribunal as a threat to his hold on power. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be so desperate to destroy it.
For the moment, the people of Lebanon have been handed a victory by the world community. But Lebanon is on edge tonight as well, fearful of an unknowable future with many dangers yet to be overcome before justice for Hariri can be done.
Allah is on the story as well:
Wonderful news, even if Russia and China couldnâ€™t quite bring themselves to endorse it. This has been Assadâ€™s greatest fear since Rafiq Hariri, the anti-Syrian former prime minister of Lebanon, was assassinated two years ago: all signs point to the Syrian governmentâ€™s involvement and he knows it and soon the rest of the world will know it too. Thatâ€™s why people ended up dying every time the UN inched a little closer to approving the tribunal â€” it was Assadâ€™s version of a shot across the bow, a warning of what could and would happen in Lebanon if the UN went ahead with the investigation. His puppet was already making threats in advance of the vote:
The “puppet” Allah refers to is Syrian toady Emile Lahoud who has threatened that a wave of violence will erupt in the wake of the UN vote.
Lahoud has also been busy trying to undermine Siniora. He proposed a “Salvation Cabinet” during a meeting with the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir made up of 6 ministers “each representing one of the main religious communities.”
This is a non-starter since it would give Hizbullah control over one third of the cabinet thus giving it veto power over the majority. But give the toady high marks for doing his master’s bidding in Syria.
And Ace has his doubts – for good reason.