Lebanon’s opposition March 14 coalition encouraged a massive turnout for today’s funeral of an assassinated security official and for a “day of rage” against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The bloc also called on supporters to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whom it blames for the Oct. 19 car bombing that killed Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan. Al-Hassan, who headed the information branch of the Internal Security Forces, had investigated several bombings and plots that the March 14 group blamed on the Syrian regime.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency, which had initially reported eight people dead and more than 86 wounded, said last night the final casualty count was three dead and 126 wounded. The fatalities included al-Hassan, his bodyguard and a woman, it said.
“Let tomorrow be a national day of rage at the killers and their protectors,” the coalition said, specifying Assad, in a statement read yesterday by lawmaker Nouhad Mashnouq.
The rally will take place in Martyrs’ Square, scene of demonstrations in downtown Beirut that followed the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, an act that March 14 officials also have blamed on Syria. Public anger over Hariri’s killing forced pro-Syria Prime Minister Omar Karami to step down 14 days later, and Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence.
Some March 14 supporters held a candlelight vigil near the scene of the bombing that targeted al-Hassan. Others pitched tents near the Grand Serail, Mikati’s headquarters, in downtown Beirut as protesters roamed nearby streets.
The bombing has exacerbated tensions simmering in Lebanon since an uprising against Assad began in neighboring Syria in March 2011. Lebanon is divided into pro-and anti-Assad groups that have fought intermittently in the northern city of Tripoli and Beirut. A clash in Tripoli hours after al-Hassan’s death left a Sunni Muslim cleric dead.
The unrest has prompted concern that Syria’s civil war may spill over the border. March 14 politicians including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafiq’s son, were quick to accuse Syria of carrying out the killing.
Hariri urged supporters yesterday to join the rally to honor al-Hassan as a man “who protected Lebanon from dangers and exposed himself to an explosion so that you won’t explode and so Lebanon won’t explode.”
Al-Hassan’s investigations included the 2005 Hariri assassination. The security official also was instrumental in the probe that led to the arrest in August 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.
Mikati said yesterday that al-Hassan’s assassination was linked to his exposure of the Samaha plot. He said that he had offered to resign so that a national unity government could be formed in the aftermath of the bombing. President Michel Suleiman urged him to stay on while Suleiman consults the country’s top officials about the attack and so the country won’t slip into a political vacuum, Mikati said.
Mikati’s cabinet is backed by the Shiite Muslim militant Hezbollah group, an Assad ally and the main bloc in the pro-Syria March 8 coalition. The March 14 protesters will also demand the disarming of Hezbollah, the only group that has refused to lay down its arms since Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.