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March 14 MP Walid Eido assassinated in Beirut bombing

By Rym Ghazal and Hani M. Bathish

Daily Star staff

Thursday, June 14, 2007

 Retrieved from Daily Star on June 14, 2007

 BEIRUT: Anti-Syrian MP Walid Eido was killed on Wednesday - along with his eldest son Khaled and eight other people - when a booby-trapped car tore through the politician's convoy near Beirut's seafront.

 Residents and passersby in Ras beirut flocked to the now-familiar scene of blazing cars, shattered windows and wounded bystanders. The booby-trapped car was on a side street sandwiched between the Madinat al-Malahi amusement park and the Sporting Club beach resort, where Eido frequently swam and played cards.

 "Oh my God, not another assassination," screamed a woman as she ran to the site, followed by others looking for their children and relatives who had been at the amusement park or strolling on the capital's seafront promenade.

 Apart from the 65-year-old chairman of Parliament's Defense Committee and his son, the blast also claimed the lives of two bodyguards and six civilians, security sources said.

 Prime Minister Fouad Siniora denounced the attack and declared Thursday a national day of mourning.

 All official government offices will be closed, along with private and public schools and universities.

 "All I saw were flames. A car passed - I think it was a Mercedes - then the bomb went off," said a dazed Jihad Fahs, manager of Madinat al-Malahi, as he surveyed his badly battered business.

 Eleven other people were wounded and rushed to nearby hospitals as several blood-stained bystanders assisted in the rescue operation.

 "We have to unite and help each other before this country completely rips apart," said one of the residents, his hands caked with dried blood after having carried a woman and two young men wounded in a coffee shop near the amusement park.

 "At first I thought a gas cylinder had exploded," said Nour al-Souqi, who works at the park. "I ran out to check on our staff, and all I saw was fire. Fortunately we were not very busy because of the general situation. It only gets busy at night."

 Madinat al-Malahi's cafeteria suffered minor damage in the blast. Khaled Hamed, the brother of the cafeteria's owner, said he was in the back of the cafeteria praying when the bomb detonated.

 "I was blown back by the pressure of the blast," Hamed said. "When I got up I immediately called 112 and told them a bomb went off. I turned the corner and saw cars on fire."

 Eido was a member of parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri's Future Movement and one of the most vocal critics of what he repeatedly called "Syria's relentless interference" in Lebanon.

 "It's the same evil fingers and the apparatus of evil that are planting terror in all of Lebanon," Hariri said in a televised speech after the bombing.

 He called on the Arab League to boycott what he called "a terrorist regime," an obvious reference to Syria. "They do not want Lebanon to rest. They do not want its government to rise or its army to do its job defending order. We will not evacuate Beirut in the face of terror," he said.

 Hariri said Eido had been "a powerful voice for freedom, independence and justice for Lebanon," adding that his death was a big loss for the Future Movement and added another victim to a list led by Hariri's father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

 Eido was the seventh anti-Syrian figure to be killed since Rafik Hariri and Basil Fuleihan were assassinated in a massive bomb blast in February 2005 - about 1.5 kilometers along the seafront from Wednesday's attack. He was also the third member of the parliamentary majority to be killed, leaving it with 68 MPs in the 128-seat Parliament.

 The MP was a prominent leader of the mass demonstra-tions that followed Hariri's killing and led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops in April 2005 and the end of three decades of Syrian tutelage over Lebanon.

 It was the ninth explosion to hit Beirut and its environs since the onset of fighting between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militants at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli on May 20 .

 The last assassination to shake the country was that of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, another prominent anti-Syrian politician and who was gunned down in his car in broad daylight last November.

 Syrian workers from a construction site just a few meters away from the blast were seen being lined up for interrogation by the police, with some of them handcuffed and sitting on the ground.

 Security sources said the bomb consisted of about 80 kilograms of TNT and was planted in a car parked near the exit from the resort.

 The site of the blast is just a couple of hundred meters from a military beach club where President Emile Lahoud regularly swims and which is heavily guarded by the army.

 Eido was formerly a member of the Murabitoun, a Sunni militia that was active during Lebanon's 1975 -1990 Civil War. A retired judge, he was killed just three days after UN Security Council Resolution 1757 came into effect, mandating the establishment of a hybrid Lebanese-international tribunal to try suspects in the Hariri assassination and other similar attacks.

 In his speech, Siniora asked that the United Nations add Eido's slaying to the list and provide technical assistance for the investigation. He also requested that the Arab League convene an extraordinary meeting of Arab foreign ministers to discuss the complex crisis in Lebanon.

 Speaker Nabih Berri, Reform and Change parliamentary bloc leader MP Michel Aoun, Hizbullah and Lahoud issued statements late Wednesday decrying the crime.

 "No one, not individuals or organizations, will be able to turn Lebanon through terrorism and organized crime into a field for chaos subversion and wars," the speaker declared. "No one will be able to shatter this small country big with its martyrs."

 Aoun expressed outrage at the killing of a "representative of the people," expressing hope that the security forces would apprehend the perpetrators.

 "What is most important is to uncover the side behind these repeated crimes and bring them to trial," the former army commander said. "Denouncing these crimes is no longer enough while people fall."

 Lahoud noted that the attack coincided with apparent progress in initiatives and contacts aimed at solving the ongoing power struggle between the government and the opposition, which he said makes it necessary for all Lebanese to unite in order to foil the plans of "the enemies of Lebanon" to further undermine security and stability in the country.

 "If we have failed so far to meet, maybe now the sadness that has befallen Lebanon once again will bring the leaders together to make a national stand to save Lebanon and preserve its unity and protect its from dangers that threaten all of us," Lahoud said.

 As has been the case following previous assassinations, pro-government politicians pointed accusatory fingers at the government of Syria.

 Wednesday's attack was part of a campaign being carried out by Damascus to change the balance of power in the Lebanese Parliament, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said.

 "It is the same serial killer who wants to liquidate the parliamentary majority; it is a physical liquidation by the Syrian regime," he said.

 Another member of the anti-Syrian camp, former President Amin Gemayel, described Eido's assassination as having been "part of the criminal attacks that have targeted leaders and personalities of the 'Cedar Revolution'" that ended Syrian domination in Lebanon.

 "This crime will not deter us ... and what happens today highlights the importance of the international tribunal," said Gemayel, father of the industry minister slain in November.

 Condemnations also poured in from outside the country, with the US and French government leading the chorus.

 "The United States deplores this latest attack in Beirut that led to the death of a respected member of Parliament, Walid Eido, and his son," White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.

 French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also deplored the killing.

 "I condemn with the greatest severity this odious and cowardly crime. Those responsible must be caught and punished," he said. "France and the whole international community stand side-by-side with Lebanon against these repeated attempts at destabilization. More than ever it is time for Lebanese of all confessions to come together and resume political dialogue."

 The rotating presidency of the European Union, currently held by Germany, also voiced outrage at the latest assassination to rattle Beirut.

 "The presidency condemns in the strongest possible terms this attack, a new attempt to destabilize Lebanon," the EU presidency said in a statement released through the German Foreign Ministry.

 "This is unacceptable and will not succeed," the statement added. - With agencies