Prime Minister Fuad Siniora called for unity to overcome the political crisis and said that the cabinet approved the document to establish the court into the murder that has been blamed on Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies.
"In a historical meeting, the Council of Ministers approved unanimously by those present the draft of the special tribunal," Siniora told reporters after an extraordinary cabinet session.
Siniora said that the government approval was meant "to reject and confront attempts to assassinate Lebanon ... and to tell the criminals that we will not give up our right to achieve justice despite the difficulties."
"Our brothers who could not join us in taking this decision were actually with us - in our heart, our position, and our decision," Siniora said, making an appeal for unity.
Information minister Ghazi Aridi said "this meeting is 100 percent constitutional ... and the Council of Ministers will inform the United Nations," which should vote through the draft paving the way to create the court.
Environment minister Yaacub Sarraf, close to Damascus-backed President Emile Lahoud, said early Monday that he quit because the cabinet had lost "constitutional legitimacy after losing the representation of a whole confession."
On Saturday, five Shiite Muslim ministers resigned after Siniora vowed to go ahead with the cabinet meeting to discuss the UN document for the tribunal.
The row followed the failure Saturday of a week of national roundtable talks on forming a unity government, and after months of political stalemate because of disputes between the pro- and anti-Syrian camps in parliament.
An ongoing United Nations probe has implicated senior officials from Syria, which for decades was the powerbroker in its smaller neighbor, and also Lebanese accomplices. Damascus strongly denies any connection with the Hariri killing.
The powerful Hezbollah movement, supported by Syria and Iran and flush from its declared "divine victory" in the summer war with Israel, had two portfolios in the 24-minister cabinet, which is dominated by anti-Syrian politicians.
Two ministers from Shiite ally Amal also resigned, along with foreign minister Fawzi Sallukh who is considered close to Hezbollah.
Siniora rejected the resignations of Sarraf, a Greek Orthodox Christian, and the five Shiite ministers and invited them in a letter to return to their "effective participation" in the cabinet.
But health minister Mohammed Khalifeh, one of the Amal ministers who quit, said that the ruling majority was free to bring "Shiites not from Hezbollah or Amal" into the government.
Influential parliament chief Nabih Berri, the Amal leader who organized the roundtable talks, said Sunday: "We have reached a divorce, but it does not mean that we have reached a dead end."
"It is in the hands of the majority. When we could not find a response to our request for [greater] participation [in the government], we resorted to the democratic principle, which states that the majority rules and the minority is in the opposition."
Hezbollah wants to bring in opposition allies, including representatives of Christian ally Michel Aoun who has a 21-strong bloc in the 128-member parliament.
It is primarily seeking to secure a greater number of cabinet posts that would ensure that it had a "blocking minority" - which could stymie any attempt by the Beirut government to ratify the international court.
The anti-Syrian parliamentary majority held a meeting Sunday after which MP Saad Hariri read a statement in their name in which Iran and Syria were accused of trying to block the court's creation.
"The plot by Syria and Iran to stop the creation of an international court has been exposed" after the resignation of the Shiite ministers, said Hariri, who heads parliamentary majority and is the son of Rafiq Hariri.
Earlier this month, the White House sounded the alarm over what it called "mounting evidence" that Hezbollah was "preparing plans to topple" the Beirut government with the aid of its Iranian and Syrian allies.
Syria denies trying to overthrow Beirut's pro-Western government and insists that Lebanon can only be governed through "national unity," while Tehran also terms the accusations baseless.
Source : AFP