Intelligence chief had implicated Damascus in Hariri killing
The car bombing in Beirut that killed Lebanon’s intelligence chief on Friday has induced high sectarian tensions in a country already divided over the situation in neighbouring Syria.
Friday’s attack in the mainly Christian Ashrafiyeh neighbourhood also killed seven others and injured around 100.
Critics of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad point out that Damascus has a motive for masterminding the assassination Wissam al-Hassan. He had led an investigation that implicated Syria and the Lebanese Hizbollah in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Saad al-Hariri, the leader of the March 14 alliance, said: “Who killed Wissam al-Hassan is as clear as day. Certainly the Lebanese people will not be silent over this heinous crime and I, Saad Hariri, promise that I will not be silent.” Walid Jumblatt, Lebanon’s Druze leader and Mr. Hariri’s ally, also blamed Mr. Assad for the attack. “The Syrian regime is expert in political assassinations,” he told the AFP news agency.
But the pro-Assad camp has rubbished the accusations. Iran’s Press TV said the assassination was a false flag attack mounted by Mossad, Israel’s high-profile intelligence agency. The channel quoted Ralph Schoenman, a commentator from Berkeley, as saying it was “a classical operation of Mossad”. He said Israel benefited from a divided Lebanon and the destabilisation of the government in Damascus. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast also said “the main enemy of the Lebanese people and the region is the Zionist regime [Israel], which benefits from instability and lack of security in the region”.
On its part, Hizbollah condemned the killing and said “this hideous crime is a vicious attempt to target stability and national unity”. The Syrian government described the attack as a “terrorist, cowardly” act.
Hizbollah’s fears that the attack may trigger internal instability seemed to be coming true as sectarian tensions in Lebanon surged following Friday’s assassination. In Tripoli, the northern Lebanese city that borders Syria, tensions between the majority Sunni community and the Allawites — supposedly the supporters of Mr. Assad — appeared to soar. Residents of the rival districts of the mostly-Allawite Jabal Mohsen and mostllly-Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh clashed on Friday, leaving one person dead. The main highway from Tripoli to the Syrian border was blocked, with protesters burning tyres on the way. Sporadic violence was also reported from Sidon — Lebanon’s third largest city.
The tumult in Lebanon seemed to distract attention from a serious attempt by Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League envoy, to broker a short ceasefire in Syria. On Friday, Turkey joined the ceasefire bid in Syria — a significant development as Ankara has been on the front line in supporting armed opposition fighters trying to topple the Assad government.