|Lebanon Crisis Deepens|
|Thursday, 23 November 2006|
Jumblatt Warns of More Killings as Syria Protests Innocence
Lebanon’s former first lady Joyce Gemayel wept as she stood by her son’s coffin. “They riddled him with bullets. They tore him apart,” she sobbed.
With Independence Day celebrations canceled, Lebanon was engulfed in fear and gloom as Gemayel’s assassination threatened to push the country in political crisis over the brink. Schools and shops were closed and traffic was light while the country began three days of mourning.
Gemayel, minister of industry and scion of a prominent political family, was killed Tuesday when two cars blocked his vehicle at an intersection in the suburbs of Beirut and an assassin shot him numerous times through a side window of his car.
His killing — the fifth murder of an anti-Syrian figure in Lebanon in two years — immediately drew condemnations from all quarters.
Shots were fired into the air as the crowd marched behind the pallbearers along streets daubed with photographs of the slain minister.
Lebanon’s most prominent anti-Syrian leader said he expected Damascus to assassinate more politicians after the shooting of a Christian minister raised fears of a new spasm of factional violence.
The murder also heightened tensions between the anti-Syrian government and the pro-Damascus opposition led by Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite group determined to topple what it regards as a pro-US cabinet.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt blamed Syria for Gemayel’s assassination and said he expected more killings aimed at undermining parliament’s ruling majority. Syria has joined international condemnation of the killing.
“It seems the Syrian regime will continue with the assassinations. I expect more assassinations but no matter what they do, we are here and we will be victorious,” Jumblatt said, echoing fears expressed by other senior Christian figures.
But Syria has gone on the offensive to protest its innocence. It stressed that the timing, on the day the United Nations endorsed a blueprint for a tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, was designed to cause maximum damage to Syria. It has denied persistent accusations of involvement in the Hariri murder.
The anti-Syrian camp in Beirut, faced with a growing challenge from Hezbollah since its war with Israel, is the only party which stands to gain from Gemayel’s assassination, the official press in Damascus argued.
The motive behind Tuesday’s murder was “to block the popular mobilization called by Hezbollah... in order to delay the inevitable fall of a government which has lost its legitimacy”, said the ruling party’s Al-Baath daily.
The Hezbollah and its allies had planned to take to the streets to demand the replacement of the pro-Western cabinet of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora with a government of national unity.
“This assassination ... constitutes a lifeline for the government,” said Ath-Thawra.
Prior to the Gemayel killing, Hezbollah, aiming to capitalize on the July-August war with Israel, and other pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon had been on the ascendancy on Lebanon’s fractured political scene.
“The timing of the assassination, just hours before a UN Security Council meeting ... raises many questions over a link between the two events,” said Syrian analyst Ayman Abdel-Nour.
“The assassination works against the interests of Damascus because it blocks the actions of the pro-Syrian movements in Lebanon, especially the popular mobilization called for by Hezbollah that is now no longer possible.
“Quite the opposite, now it’s the March 14 forces who are in charge,” said Abdel Nour, who runs an Internet political forum, referring to the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority in Beirut.
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