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Assassination sparks new Lebanon crisis
[November 23, 2006]

Assassination sparks new Lebanon crisis

(The Daily Telegraph, Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) THE assassination could not have been more professional, or swift. As Pierre Gemayel drove through the Christian suburb of Jdeideh in northern Beirut yesterday, a vehicle rammed into his car.

Witnesses said at least three gunmen leapt out of the vehicle, a Honda CRV, and sprayed Mr Gemayel's grey Kia car at close range with bullets from silenced automatic weapons.

Last night, a cluster of bullet holes could be seen around the driver's window, and the two front seats were covered in blood. Mr Gemayel's bodyguard also died in the attack and a second passenger was injured.

Mr Gemayel, who was 34, died in hospital, as weeping family and supporters waited anxiously outside.

The son of former president Amin Gemayel, he was a member of the Christian Phalange party founded by his grandfather.Amin Gemayel last night urged supporters to remain calm and avoid retribution, but in Christian areas of Beirut angry protesters were already taking to the streets with posters of the murdered politician. They chanted slogans against Hizbollah and Michel Aoun, a rival Christian leader who has allied recently with Syria.

"I have one wish, that tonight be a night of prayer to contemplate the meaning of this martyrdom and how to protect this country,'' Amin Gemayel said.

Like his father and late uncle - Bashir Gemayel, who was killed in 1982 shortly after he was elected president - Mr Gemayel was a strong opponent of the influence of Syria, who many Lebanese blame for the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri last year.

That murder sparked the "Cedar Revolution'', after which Syrian forces were forced to withdraw from Lebanon. But many suspect Syrian agents remain at large. The killing has increased tensions in Lebanon amid a political crisis pitting the anti-Syrian majority government against the pro-Damascus opposition led by Hizbollah, which is determined to topple what it sees as an American puppet government.

The assassination was the latest in a string of recent killings of anti-Syrian Lebanese figures since last year's murder of Mr Hariri. It came as the UN Security Council approved plans for an international tribunal to try suspects in the murder. The plans must now be submitted to the Lebanese government.

Mr Gemayel was among the members of the cabinet to have voted last week for the UN plan. The vote came after crisis talks failed, prompting the resignation of six opposition cabinet members which threw the anti-Syrian government of prime minister Fouad Siniora into crisis.

With Mr Gemayel's death, the resignation or death of two more ministers would bring down the government.

By early evening yesterday, hundreds of army, police, and security personnel had sealed off the area around Mr Gemayel's car, as investigators gathered evidence.

"Gemayel's assassination is an operation trying to kill the hope of the people,'' said Fr Joseph Abu Ghazale, parish priest at the Maronite Church of St Anthony's, 50 yards from where Mr Gemayel died.

Fr Ghazale, 48, said: "Pierre was in this church six months ago and he heard me talk about martyrs and how they live on after death. He believed and was ready to sacrifice himself.

"He represented the ambitions of all the young people in Lebanon, and that enthusiasm will only increase now.''

Fr Ghazale was in no doubt about who was behind the assassination. "Syria, for sure, and even if it wasn't, Damascus will certainly benefit,'' he said. "Thirty years of Syrian occupation weren't enough - they are still trying to kill the Gemayel family. But with this death they have killed one Gemayel, and created thousands more in the young Lebanese people.''Listen

'This could start a civil war'

Copyright 2006 The Daily Telegraph. Source: Financial Times Information Limited - Europe Intelligence Wire.

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