Lebanon's US-backed government on Saturday approved the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, overriding objections by Hizbullah and the country's pro-Syrian president.
The approval, though widely expected, was bound to deepen the country's political crisis and spark mass street demonstrations threatened by Hizbullah and its allies to topple the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Hizbullah head, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, along with the chairman of the Lebanese parliament and head of the Amal movement, Nabih Beri, issued a joint statement Friday saying that they back the formation of the court, but stressing they were standing firm by their ministers' decision to resign the government.
Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora said in response that he was willing to postpone the government session on the tribunal, if there was still a chance that the ministers withdraw their resignations. In light of their refusal to do so, the meeting took place as planned.
About two weeks ago, six ministers associated with Hizbullah, Amal, and President Emile Lahoud resigned from the government. The official cause for the resignation was their demand to set up a unity government in which Shiites constitute a third of the ministers.
However, the anti-Syrians camp in Lebanon claimed that the actual reason for the resignation was Nasrallah's objection to the establishment of the international tribunal.
The tensions surrounding the issue have escalated in the last week against the backdrop of the assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, an outspoken critic of the Syrian involvement in the country.
Initial reports from the UN investigation of Hariri's murder implicate security officials in Syria and Lebanon, which many believe were also behind Gemayel's death. Damascus has strongly denied any connection to the two leaders' death, and has also complained about having been left outside the decision-maker circle regarding the setting up of the tribunal.