Gemayel's death triggers sectarian tensions

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Patricia Daif (bottom), wife of assassinated leader Pierre Gemayel, in Bikfaya on Wednesday.
Patricia Daif (bottom), wife of assassinated leader Pierre Gemayel, in Bikfaya on Wednesday.

Atul Aneja

A heinous terrorist act, says Damascus

DUBAI: Sectarian tensions were running high in Beirut on Wednesday, following the assassination of Lebanon's Industry Minister, Pierre Gemayel.

Gemayel (34), who was killed on Tuesday, belonged to a prominent Christian family, which has been in the political limelight in Lebanon for decades.

A vehicle rammed into his car and gunmen sprayed bullets at the stranded car from point blank range.

The funeral is slated for Thursday. Gemayel's father Amin Gemayel is a former Prime Minister.

His uncle Bashir Gemayel, who was also assassinated, was a prominent figure during the 15-year civil war which ended in 1990.

Al Nahar, a daily from Beirut, reported that as the word about the assassination spread, crowds burnt tyres, damaged cars and tore posters of the Hizbollah and allied Christian groups, in Beirut and Bikfaya, Gemayel's hometown.

Known critic

Analysts point out that the killing of Gemayel, known critic of Syria, threatens to undermine the budding accommodation of Damascus in the region's mainstream diplomacy to ease tensions, especially in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

Saad Hariri, leader of the March 14 Forces instrumental in ending Syrian military presence in Lebanon last year, blamed Damascus for the assassination.

As Beirut threatened to emerge as a battleground between the pro-U.S. March 14 Forces and Hizbollah, Syria has said Gemayel's assassination was a "heinous terrorist act."

Its embassy in Washington said the killing would hamper international efforts to engage with Syria.

The Hizbollah, which is close to Syria and Iran, said the assassination was aimed at pushing Lebanon back to civil war. Iran described the killing as a "criminal act."

The Israeli daily Haaretz said "pure political and diplomatic logic makes it difficult to see Damascus behind the assassination. The day Gemayel was

killed, Syria chalked up one of its most significant diplomatic achievements since its defeat in Lebanon in April 2005: the renewal of full diplomatic relations with Iraq.

Suspects Syria

AFP reports from Paris:

Mr. Amin Gemayel said on Wednesday he suspected Syria had played a role in the assassination, saying it would be in keeping with Damascus's past behaviour.

``We do not yet have irrefutable proof or presumption but many fingers are pointing at Syria, which incidentally has a track record,'' he told French news channel LCI from Beirut.

``We have proof that it was Syria that had my brother, President [Bashir] Gemayel, assassinated in 1982 and everything leads us to believe it is Syria's usual behaviour to settle its scores in Lebanon through such diabolical means.''



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