Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Car bomb kills anti-Syrian MP, 9 others in Beirut

Car bomb kills anti-Syrian MP, 9 others in Beirut
By Tom Perry and Yara Bayoumy

A powerful car bomb killed anti-Syrian Lebanese politician Walid Eido and nine other people on Wednesday in the sixth blast to strike the Beirut area in less than four weeks, security sources said. The bomb, concealed in a parked vehicle, detonated as Eido's car drove by near the seafront in the Lebanese capital. One of his sons was among the dead. At least 11 people were wounded. Eido, 64, belonged to the majority anti-Syrian parliamentary bloc of Saad al-Hariri, which controls the government. He had been a vocal opponent of Syrian influence in Lebanon and an ally of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated by a suicide truck bomber in February 2005 on the same seafront corniche just over a kilometer away. Eido was killed just three days after a U.N. Security Council resolution came into effect setting up an international tribunal to try suspects in Hariri's assassination.

Saad al-Hariri and his political allies say Syria was behind the ex-prime minister's killing and later attacks. Damascus denies any involvement. Eido's death brought to seven the number of anti-Syrian figures killed in Lebanon since 2005. The United States and France deplored Eido's assassination. "We stand with the people of Lebanon and Prime Minister (Fouad) Siniora's government as they battle extremists who are trying to derail Lebanon's march to peace, prosperity and a lasting democracy," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said his country stood by Lebanon "in the face of these repeated attempts at destabilization." He urged the Lebanese to resume dialogue.

The blast hit near an amusement park and a football club, setting a car ablaze and shattering windows at a nearby restaurant. It hurled the bodies of Eido and his son across the road and into a football ground, witnesses said. The bomb was stronger than the five that had exploded in and around Beirut in the past month, security sources said. Those blasts killed two people.

Eido's death was likely to fuel tension between Siniora's Western-backed government and the pro-Damascus opposition led by the Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah group. Parliamentarian deputy Wael Abou-Faour accused Syria of killing his colleague. "Walid Eido was a symbol of democracy in Lebanon. (He) was assassinated because there is a decision by the Syrian regime to terminate the March 14 bloc," Abou-Faour told Al Arabiya television, referring to the Hariri-led coalition. "The Assad regime did not have enough of the blood of the free in Lebanon." Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is a pro-Syrian ally of Hezbollah, condemned the killing. "No individual, group, organization or party using terrorism and organized crime will be able to make Lebanon an arena for unrest, strife, wars and score-settling," he said. Tension was already high in Lebanon, where the army has been battling Islamist militants at a Palestinian refugee camp in the north for more than three weeks.

Two Lebanese soldiers were killed in fresh fighting at the Nahr al-Bared camp on Wednesday, security sources said. Al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam militants attacked Lebanese army posts set up at newly seized territory in the outskirts of Nahr al-Bared camp overnight and in the early morning, they said. Army units, which had seized two militant positions in heavy fighting on Tuesday, responded with dozens of artillery rounds, sending smoke rising from the camp's cinderblock buildings. The battle for the camp, Lebanon's bloodiest internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war, has killed 144 people -- 62 soldiers, 50 militants and 32 civilians -- since May 20.

(Additional reporting by Nadim Ladki and Laila Bassam)

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