UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The UN Security Council on Wednesday voted to set up an international court to try suspects in the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, whose death rocked his country two years ago. The legally binding resolution, which was narrowly approved, sets June 10 as the date on which a 2006 agreement between the UN and the Beirut government to establish the court enters into force.

The vote came at a time of high tensions in Lebanon, exacerbated by a deadly standoff between the army and an Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist militia, and a spate of bomb attacks and tightened security in and around the capital Beirut.

Ten of the Security Council’s 15 members voted in favor of Resolution 1757, with veto-wielding members Russia and China as well as South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar — three non-permanent members — abstaining.The issue of the tribunal, which has divided Lebanon between the government and the opposition, was immediately welcomed by Hariri’s MP son, Saad, the leader of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority. "Let’s all join hands in defending the international tribunal … as an opportunity for all Lebanese to unite," he said in a televised statement. Lebanon’s opposition objects to the way the Western-backed Siniora government has handled plans to create the court under UN auspices. The Siniora government in turn accuses allies of Syria of trying to prevent the creation of the tribunal under pressure from Damascus.

His father and 22 other people were killed in a massive bomb blast in February 2005, widely blamed on Syria which was then forced to end nearly 30 years of military and political domination in Lebanon.

An initial UN inquiry into the Hariri slaying implicated Damascus, which has denied any involvement.

At the United Nations, the six co-sponsors — the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Slovakia and Italy — hailed the text while other nations expressed concern about interfering in an already unstable situation.

From London, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett acknowledged that "tribunal has been a politically sensitive issue" and applauded the Security Council for adopting the resolution in order to move forward.

"The Security Council has demonstrated its support for the government of Lebanon and its commitment to the principle that there shall be no impunity for political assassinations, in Lebanon or elsewhere," she said in a statement.

Her comments were echoed by US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, who hailed the "commitment to the principle that there shall be no impunity in Lebanon or elsewhere" and hoped the tribunal would "deter future political assassinations."

However, Syria’s UN envoy Bashar Jaafari opposed the move, and there were more dissenting voices from members which chose to abstain.

"Those who were behind such a resolution would assume the consequences, but definitely this is something that goes against the interests of the Lebanese people and Lebanon as a whole," Jaafari said.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin objected to the reference to Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, used in cases of threats to international peace and security.

He also called the resolution "dubious from the standpoint of international law" as it bypasses the requirements of Lebanon’s constitutional process.

And in Berlin for talks with the quartet of main Middle East players, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that a sharp increase in US military aid earmarked for Lebanon could "destabilize" the country.

Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser of Qatar, the lone Arab member of the council, expressed fear that the ruling "would not bring stability in Lebanon" and involved "legal encroachment that may further complicate the situation."

Western powers had put forward the resolution after UN chief Ban Ki-moon reported that rival Lebanese parties had failed to agree on ratifying the 2006 accord.

A jittery Lebanon clamped down on security for the night, as a blast apparently caused by a sound grenade shattered the calm but caused no casualties or damage.

Ahead of the vote, Lebanese opposition leader Michel Aoun deplored moves to fast-track an international court.

"What is most important for the tribunal is to have people who are accused. Where are the accused?" the Christian Maronite leader, himself a former prime minister, told France Inter radio.

And Damascus, through its state news agency SANA in a commentary issued before the vote, warned of possible repercussions on the ground in Lebanon.

The tribunal, which will be held in an as yet undetermined "neutral" location, is not likely to be up and running until several months after the treaty enters into force, diplomats said.