BEIRUT, Lebanon – The Cabinet sent to the president Monday a draft accord on a tribunal to try the alleged killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, taking another step in the struggle between pro-Western and pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon.
President Emile Lahoud, a pro-Syrian, is expected to decline to endorse the agreement, which would set up a U.N. backed court that would sit outside Lebanon.
The tribunal has become a weapon in the battle by Hezbollah and its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement, to increase their share of the Cabinet from five to eight seats, which would give them veto powers.
Six Cabinet ministers, including all the Shiites, resigned from the Cabinet earlier this month shortly before the government gave initial approval to the tribunal.
The move caused Lahoud to say the government should step down because the constitution requires all sects to be represented in the Cabinet. But Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who is backed by the United States and anti-Syrian factions, has refused to resign, saying the Cabinet meetings still reach the quorum necessary to take decisions.
A statement from Saniora's office said Monday that the tribunal accord, which the Cabinet approved on Saturday, had been referred to the president.
A spokesman for Lahoud said the accord had arrived at the Presidential Palace, but he did not know if the president had seen it.
Asked how Lahoud would respond to the accord, spokesman Rafik Shalala reiterated the president regards the Cabinet as having "lost its constitutional legitimacy after the resignation of the Shiite ministers."
"The government's meetings and decisions have no constitutional or legal basis," Shalala said.
Hezbollah is threatening to call mass demonstrations unless it and Amal obtain a veto-wielding share of the Cabinet — a demand that Saniora and the anti-Syrian parties have rejected.
The tribunal accord also needs to be approved by the parliament, but the speaker, Nabih Berri, the leader of Amal, supports the Lahoud view that the Cabinet is no longer constitutional.
The crisis threatened to become explosive last week when gunmen shot dead an anti-Syrian Cabinet minister, Pierre Gemayel of the Christian Phalange Party, in Beirut. The assassination, the sixth killing of an anti-Syrian figure in the past two years, raised fears of the country returning to the sectarian violence of the 1975-90 civil war.
For Lebanese opponents of Syria, the U.N.-created court is a priority. They hope it will uncover the truth behind the February 2005 bombing that slew Hariri and 22 others. Many Lebanese have blamed Syria for the attack, but it has denied any role.
On Monday, the technical team of the U.N. commission that is investigating Hariri's assassination examined the scene where Gemayel was shot dead last Tuesday, the official National News Agency reported.
Chief U.N. investigator Belgian judge Serge Brammertz inspected the scene on Saturday. The U.N. has accepted a Lebanese government request to include Gemayel's murder in its investigation.