Lebanon received from the United Nations on Friday a draft document outlining the framework of a
tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Lebanese officials said.
The move indicated that major powers on the UN Security Council had bridged differences that had delayed an agreement on the workings and structure of the court, the officials said.
They did not reveal details of the draft but said some Russian objections to an earlier draft had been taken on board.
One official source said the tribunal, to be made up of Lebanese and foreign judges, would have no power to try or question heads of states as the killing would not be defined as a "crime against humanity" or a "terrorist attack".
Hariri was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2005, in a suicide truck bombing that killed 22 other people. The killing, which sparked large anti-Syrian protests that forced Syria to end three decades of military presence in Lebanon, is under investigation by a UN commission led by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz.
The UN probe has implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian security officials. Syria has denied any role.
The personal representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi nnan, Geir Pederson, handed a copy of the draft to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut.
Pederson later visited Hariri's son Saad, parliamentary majority leader, with another UN envoy. He told reporters on his way in to the meeting that he would discuss with Hariri UN Resolution 1701 on a truce between Hizbullah and Israel.
Reuters had reported earlier that Pederson gave Hariri a copy of the draft. Asked whether he would give Hariri a copy, Pederson said he had given the copy only to the Lebanese government.
The next step is for the Lebanese government to approve the draft and ask parliament to pass it into law, officials said.
The draft arrived in Lebanon at a time of heightened political tension with rival leaders debating opposition demands for more say in the Western-backed cabinet.
Some anti-Syrian leaders have expressed fears that the aim of these demands by pro-Syrian Hizbullah and its allies is to secure enough cabinet seats to block formation of the tribunal.
Hizbullah and its allies, who have threatened to take to the streets if their demands are rejected, deny this and link their quest for a bigger role to the July-August war with Israel.
Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud had raised about a dozen objections to an earlier draft of the court's statutes. Lahoud says the constitution gives him the final say in approving the tribunal. The government says its own authority is sufficient.
Four Lebanese generals loyal to Lahoud, in charge of the country's main security organs at the time, are currently in jail awaiting trial. Their lawyers say they are innocent.
Siniora asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in December for help in bringing Hariri's killers to justice once they were identified. Annan then asked UN legal counsel Nicolas Michel to discuss how to set up a tribunal with the Beirut government.