â€śThe priority is for relations with Syria [and we are] refusing to go back on it because it is in the interest of both countries,â€ť Hariri said during a meeting of the Future Movementâ€™s political bureau, which he chaired.
The prime minister, however, also refused to bow down to growing internal and international pressure to disassociate himself from the UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of his father.
â€śWe reject any compromise or attempt to do away with the tribunal,â€ť Hariri said.
â€ś[The STL is an] international institution that is present on its own and is not governed by any political power balances and more importantly there is no possibility whatsoever to give up on the blood of martyr Premier Rafik Hariri.â€ť
â€śThis will be achieved through patience, firmness and holding to [our principles] without being dragged to any issue that would drive Lebanon into a cycle of instability,â€ť he added.
However, Haririâ€™s support to the â€śpriority of relations with Syriaâ€ť followed Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallemâ€™s condemnation, on Tuesday, of the STL investigation as â€śpoliticizedâ€ť accusing it of seeking to indict Hizbullah members.
â€śWe are convinced that a condemnation of the prosecutor of this court against Hizbullah will be a factor of disturbance in Lebanon,â€ť he told the Wall Street Journal, calling for the STL be replaced by an internal Lebanese tribunal.
Commenting on Hizbullahâ€™s rejection to fund the STL, the partyâ€™s spokesman Ibrahim Moussawi told The Daily Star that Hizbullahâ€™s position with regard to the STL â€śwas known,â€ť in reference to its condemnation of the tribunal as an Israeli plot aimed against the resistance.
He added that opposition parties stood united with Hizbullah in rejecting the STLâ€™s funding.
Asked to comment on accusations by March 14 parties that Hizbullahâ€™s opposition to the STL violates the Cabinetâ€™s policy statement, which stresses support for the tribunal, Moussawi said â€ślet them say whatever they want to say.â€ť
Asked whether ministers loyal to Hizbullah might resign from the Cabinet, Moussawi said: â€śI have no comment on the issue.â€ťÂ
â€śHow can we finance a tribunal that has turned into an Israeli-American tool attempting to sow discord in the country?â€ť Hizbullah politburo member Ghaleb Abu Zaynab told AFP on Wednesday. â€śWe do not want Lebanon to fall victim to US interests in the region.â€ť
In one of their strongest declarations of support for the STL to date, the March 14 Secretariat General warned in a statement against the decomposition of the national consensus which has existed since the start national dialogue talks in 2006.
â€śTo push the Lebanese to accept the logic of force over the logic of justice is refused because that would mean the end of Lebanon,â€ť the statement said. â€śTo push the Lebanese to use weapons to confront weapons is also rejected since the Lebanese consider their protection to be the stateâ€™s responsibility.â€ť
â€śTo hide from justice by threatening strife is condemned,â€ť it added.
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said the STLâ€™s impending indictment was set to accuse members of the party as part of a plot targeting the resistance in Lebanon. The party and its allies have accused Lebanese officials of fabricating witnesses in the investigation and Nasrallah has publicized evidence that he said implicated Israel in the killing.
In response to Haririâ€™s statement, Hizbullahâ€™s Loyalty to Resistance bloc said â€śattempts to divert attention away from false witnesses, who stand accused of misleading investigations, would not work.â€ťÂ
â€śFalse witnesses must be but on trial and information linking Israel to the crime accepted,â€ť the bloc said in its statement.
Loyalty to Resistance bloc MP Ammar Moussawi, who met with UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams on Wednesday, also reiterated that the STL had erred by deviating away from objectivity and ignoring the possibility of Israelâ€™s involvement in the murder.
â€śThe course followed by the STL became a burden for states, political parties, or judicial authorities sponsoring it,â€ť he said.
â€śThe main challenge for those parties is how to find the proper solution to dismantle the time bomb which is the indictment,â€ť he added.
He also slammed the court as a tool in the hands of foreign powers that can no longer be influenced by Lebanese actors.
â€śIts actions are now in the hands of the international community â€“ this is a kind of surrender from domestic parties to the hegemony of international forces,â€ť he said.
Prior to their confirmation that they would block the article of the 2011 draft budgetâ€™s concerning the STL funding, MPs of the parliamentary majority and opposition lawmakers bickered over the article in the 2010 draft budget concerning the STL funding during Tuesdayâ€™s meeting of the Finance and Budget committee.
While March 14 MPs argued that the failure to vote on the article in the committeeâ€™s meeting earlier this month leaves the matter to Parliamentâ€™s general assembly to decide whether to pass it, Hizbullah lawmakers said the failure to approve the clause prevents its submission to Parliament.
On September 16, March 14 MPs withdrew from the Finance and Budget committee meeting after opposition lawmakers refused to approve the article relating to the funding of the STL, leaving the session short of the legal quorum and preventing a vote on the article. The sessionâ€™s minutes on September 16 as reported by head of the committee Free Patriotic Movement MP Ibrahim Kanaan, said â€śthe article to fund the STL was not approved because of lack of consensus.â€ť
But Hizbullah MPs argued in Tuesdayâ€™s meeting that â€śthe dispute over the article was settled and thus there is no need to pass it to the general assembly.â€ť
However, majority MPs voiced objection to the minutes of Tuesdayâ€™s session regarding the stance of Hizbullah MPs since the failure to approve the article â€śdoes not mean that the article should be dropped but rather that it should be submitted to Parliamentâ€™s general assembly.â€ť
On Tuesday, Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat demanded that Hizbullahâ€™s position be crossed out from the minutes and that the meeting on September 16 be considered as though â€śit never happenedâ€ť since it contradicted article 13 of Parliament by-laws after the withdrawal of majority MPs.
But Hizbullah MP Ali Ammar responded in sharp tone blaming Fatfat and the Future Movement for the â€śdestruction of the country for the past five years.â€ť
â€śYou established an Israeli-American tribunal and passed it in an illegitimate Cabinet,â€ť Ammar said, accusing the Future Movement of being responsible for â€śthe July 2006 war and the 1,200 martyrs who died during it.â€ť
Fatfatâ€™s responded by saying Ammarâ€™s remarks â€śbenefit Israel and lead to strife.â€ť
The debate led Kanaan to halt the meeting for sometime before demanding that remarks during the dispute be crossed out from the meetingâ€™s minutes. He also suggested transfering debate to Parliamentâ€™s office to settle the dispute over whether to pass the article of the STL funding to Parliament. But Kanaanâ€™s decision was opposed by lawmakers of the majority, who stressed that Parliamentâ€™s office had no prerogatives to decide upon the issue and that the article should be transferred to the general assembly.