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Not again: Lebanese Christian official assassinated

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By Michelle Malkin  •  November 21, 2006 11:23 AM

***scroll for updates…US denounces assassination….Saad Hariri, Rafik’s son and leader of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority: “We believe the hand of Syria is all over the place”…***

This is the big news of the day. Or rather, in a non-O.J., non-Hollyweird-drenched, non-trivialized world, it would be the big news of the day.

The Lebanese Daily Star reports another assassination of an anti-Syrian Lebanese government official. Pierre Gamayel was a prominent Christian politician. He was shot in his car in Jdeideh on Tuesday.

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Pierre Gamayel, R.I.P.

Gemayel is the fifth figure to be assassinated in the past two years in Lebanon. Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing in February 2005. The journalist and activist Samir Kassir and former Communist Party leader George Hawi were killed in separate car bombings in June last year in addition to lawmaker and newspaper manager Gibran Tueni was killed in a car bombing in December.

Allah has a massive news round-up and commentary. More at PJM. AP coverage here. Yahoo! News is covering.

***

Related–Michael Young in the WSJ today urges: “Don’t let Syria get away with killing Rafik Hariri:”

The Syrian regime is discovering what a nuisance Rafik Hariri, the late Lebanese prime minister, can be. Last Friday, the U.N. Security Council approved a draft plan for a mixed Lebanese-international court to try those responsible for Hariri’s assassination on Feb. 14, 2005. Damascus, the main suspect in the crime, is palpably anxious. That anxiety played out in Lebanon 10 days ago, when six ministers named by pro-Syrian politicians resigned rather than take part in Beirut’s formal endorsement of the tribunal proposal. The plan was subsequently passed by a reduced Lebanese government, but the full approval process is not over.

Five of the six ministers who resigned were appointed by or affiliated with the two main Shiite parties, Hezbollah and the Amal movement, while the sixth is Lebanese President Emile Lahoud’s man. Their resignations came amid a struggle for power between pro-Syrian groups and the anti-Syrian parliamentary and cabinet majority–dating back to the summer war between Israel and Hezbollah. While some saw the outcome of the conflict as a victory for the militant Shiite group, that was hardly the case. Israel displayed incompetence, but Hezbollah found itself militarily neutralized in its vital space of south Lebanon, at least for now. The Lebanese army and international peacekeepers are deployed in the border area, and Hezbollah cannot impose a new war on its battered Shiite community, which continues to suffer the consequences of Israel’s terrible retribution.

With little room to maneuver in the south, Hezbollah has tried to compensate in Beirut by demanding greater representation in the cabinet. The anti-Syrian majority has resisted this, arguing that the government performed well last summer, making change unnecessary. The real issue, however, is the return of Syrian hegemony. Hezbollah and its allies want enough ministerial seats so they can veto decisions they dislike that go to a cabinet vote. By so doing, they can continue to protect Syria in the Hariri investigation, and also block the majority’s policies that they don’t like. A final U.N. report is due out on Hariri’s killing in the coming months (the chief investigator, Serge Brammertz, has until mid-2007 to publish his findings), and Hezbollah fears that any accusation against Syria might also be turned against itself…

…Wherever one stands in the spectrum of U.S. foreign-policy thinking, the Hariri tribunal is a mechanism that should satisfy all. Democracy defenders see in it an institutional means of buttressing Lebanon’s independence from Syria–presuming that U.N. investigators demonstrate Syrian involvement in Hariri’s elimination. Realists will gain a splendid stick with which to force Syrian compliance with American priorities elsewhere in the Middle East, including Iraq. The court’s mandate does not oblige presidents to put in an appearance (though there is no immunity from crime, meaning they can be sentenced in absentia), so Mr. Assad can be destabilized if his involvement is proven, but not necessarily forced from office. It would make him conveniently vulnerable to outside coercion.

That’s why events in Lebanon are so important. Syria’s Lebanese allies are trying to undermine the Hariri investigation from within, and are expected to escalate their efforts very soon, maybe even this week. It makes no sense for the U.S. to hand them more ammunition by prematurely transacting with Mr. Assad before the U.N. completes its task and assigns responsibility for the assassination.

Free Cedar: God help Lebanon.

The Beirut Beltway has eyewitness reports on protests amassing in the streets:

Update. Angry crowds are gathering outside the St Joseph hospital and chanting anti-Aoun and anti-Hizbullah slogans. As Anton Effendi said, this assassination guarantees that any street protest now will devolve into clashes. The Kataeb party, of which Gemayel is a member, is calling on people to excercise self restraint.

With this assassination, March 14 has lost a member of parliament and a cabinet minister. For the Assad regime, one less March 14 vote means one less vote to ratify the international tribunal.

The eyes now are on the UN Security council, which must endorse the international tribunal as soon as possible

Update 2. Syrian-installed president Emile Lahoud has canceled the November 22nd independence day celebrations to mourn the loss of what he now referred to as a minister. Not long ago, he considered Gemayel and the rest of cabinet illegitimate following the resignation of the Shia ministers and the pro-Lahoud minister.

Meanwhile, Interior minister Ahmad Fatfat has accused Syria of standing behind Gemayel’s assassination.

Update 3. Geagea has called on Lahoud to resign immediately, accusing him of acting as a cover for the terrorist attacks. He also called on the Amal and Hizbullah ministers to return to the cabinet.

Update 4 (11am EST). The crowds outside the hospital are calling on people and March 14 to take to the streets.

Meanwhile, gunmen have fired shots at the office of another March 14 minister, Michel Faraoun in Ashrafieh.

It looks like March 14 is under attack.

March 14 leaders will meet tonight to decide on a course of action.

Update 5. A distraught Amin Gemayel (Pierre’s father) addressed the crowds. He asked all those who loved Pierre to preserve the cause he died for. He called for self-restraint so not to desecrate what he said is the cause for freedom. He asked everyone to use this night to pray and think about the meaning of martyrdom, and how to protect this country, away from revenge and irresponsible actions.

” We want the Lebanese cause to triumph. I hope all those who loved Pierre to safeguard the cause”, he said.

Update 6. Jumblatt visited the hospital and have a short statement. He affirmed that the international tribunal is coming. “We will not let them drag us to sedition.”

Rick Moran: “I have a feeling that things are going to go south very soon in Lebanon.”

Assad and Hizbollah, professing shock and denouncing the murder, do their best O.J. Simpson impersonations.

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