Lebanon’s anti-Syrian March 14 coalition urged the government to step down as residents in several Sunni Muslim areas closed roads with burning tires to protest a car bombing that killed a top security chief and at least seven other people.
A clash between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, which has had intermittent violence for the past few months, left one person dead, the official National News Agency said today. The unrest between the pro- and anti-Assad camps has provoked concern that neighboring Syria’s civil war may spill over the border.
“I call on everyone to take to the streets and demand the resignation of the Cabinet,” Wissam Shibli, youth coordinator of the Future Movement, part of the March 14 bloc, said on Future TV today. The movement plans sit-ins and other action to force Lebanon’s government out, he said.
The tensions stem from yesterday’s bombing in Beirut’s Ashrafiyyeh district, the deadliest blast in the country in at least four years. Among the dead was Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, head of the information branch of the Internal Security Forces, who had investigated several bombings and plots blamed on the Syrian regime by the March 14 coalition. The blast also injured more than 86 people.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati was responsible for the Beirut bombing and should resign, the coalition said in a statement late yesterday. Mikati’s Cabinet is backed by the militant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, which supports Assad. The Cabinet met today to discuss the impact of the bombing.
Several ministers rejected March 14’s resignation call, according to NNA. “I will not resign,” the agency cited Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui as saying.
The bomb that killed al-Hassan weighed 60 to 70 kilograms (130 to 150 pounds), General Ashraf Rifi, director general of the Internal Security Forces, was cited as saying by the Assafir newspaper. Rifi said al-Hassan was identified by his revolver and his watch, the paper reported.
The attack will undermine an already weakened economy, Kamel Wazne, an economist and director of the Center for American Studies in Beirut, said today in a phone interview.
“This will add to the recession facing Lebanon,” said Wazne. “The economy will feel more pain now because security tensions in the region have come home.”
Lebanon’s credit default swaps closed yesterday at 402 basis points, up from 397 a day earlier. A basis point equals $1,000 annually on a contract protecting $10 million of debt.
Al-Hassan had been investigating attacks that targeted anti-Syrian officials and figures, starting with the 2005 death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a bombing. He was instrumental in the probe that led to the August arrest of former Information Minister Michel Samaha, an Assad ally who has been charged with plotting to assassinate religious and political figures. More than 20 bombs found with Samaha were prepared by Syrian security agents, NNA said at the time.
Leading politicians including Saad Hariri, son of the murdered ex-premier, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt were quick to accuse Syria of carrying out the killing. Jumblatt told Future TV that Assad’s government was taking revenge for the failure of the Samaha plot. Hariri told the same channel that he blamed Assad.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the attack that targeted al-Hassan, “who was a strong defender of Lebanon’s security and its people, is a dangerous sign that there are those who continue to seek to undermine Lebanon’s stability.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu-Nasr in Beirut at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com