Beirut killing stokes Lebanese fears

The assassination of a leading leftist politician in Beirut on Tuesday has further heightened fears among many Lebanese that a hit list targeting anti-Syrian figures in the country really exists.

    Veteran leftist leader George Hawi was killed in Beirut

    George Hawi, a long time leader of the Lebanese Communist Party, was killed in a bomb blast a day after the anti-Syrian opposition scored a sweeping victory in the first parliamentary elections held without Syrian presence in the country.

    "Rafiq Hariri, Bassel Fuleihan, Samir Kassir, George Hawi. Who is next?" screamed a banner held by a mourner taking part in a vigil on Tuesday evening at the site of the explosion in Wata al-Msaitbi neighbourhood.

    The banner bore the names of those assassinated since February, including former prime minister al-Hariri who was killed in a massive bomb blast on 14 February. His top aide, former economy minister Fuleihan died two months later from injuries sustained in the explosion.

    Growing suspicion

    Syria was immediately accused of masterminding the assassination, which occurred five months after al-Hariri succumbed to Syrian pressure and voted in parliament for the amendment of the constitution that enabled Syria's staunch ally, President Emile Lahoud, to extend his stay in power for another three years.

    An anti-Syrian bloc has won in the
    Lebanese parliamentary polls

    But Hawi and Kassir, a prominent anti-Syrian journalist who was killed on 2 June when a bomb placed under his car seat went off, were both killed after Syria pulled out its troops from Lebanon in April. Kassir was also a founding member of the Democratic Left Movement.

    Still, many Lebanese accuse Syria of being behind the assassinations, saying it continues to give orders to the local security apparatus, which it helped in building during its 29 year stay in Lebanon.

    Intolerance alleged

    "I think the (Syrian) Baath regime with its Lebanese machine has reached the level of zero tolerance," said Walid Fakherddine, a political bureau member in the Democratic Left Movement.

    Lahoud has rejected the accusations and condemned Hawi's assassination, saying he was not directly responsible for the security apparatus as the opposition has claimed.

    Ziad Majed, another Democratic left activist, said Hawi was killed because of his recent comments accusing the Lebanese security apparatus of being behind Kassir's killing.

    Hawi had accused Baabda - a common reference to the presidential palace - of plotting Kassir's assassination. He had also said that he knew names of those who killed Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, father of incumbent leader Walid Jumblatt, back in 1977.

    Hit list

    Fakherddine told he believed Hawi and Kassir were killed because they enjoyed credibility among the people for their support of Arab causes.

    A blast killed former prime
    minister al-Hariri on 14 February

    Hawi led his party's struggle against Israeli occupation in Lebanon in the 1970s and 80s, while Kassir, who is of Palestinian origin, wrote extensively from France to promote Palestinian rights.

    "Those who fought Israel for years and are now fighting Syrian tyranny are regarded as dangerous people," Fakherddine said.

    "No one could say that George Hawi is a spy, but they can accuse Amin Gemayel of being a spy," he said in reference to the former president who signed a failing peace deal with Israel on 17 May, 1983 when the Jewish state was still occupying Lebanese territories.

    "That's why they simply kill them, eliminate them," added Fakherddine.

    Leftist victims

    Other leftists said they felt threatened after the killings of Hawi and Kassir.

    They raised questions on why influential figures from other groups were not targeted in the post al-Hariri era despite their participation in huge protests that preceded the Syrian withdrawal from the country.

    Bashar Shuaib, 22, a leftist activist, said he believed leftists were more exposed to physical harm than other anti-Syrian individuals, because they were secular.

    He voiced his concern over the lack of protection, which he said other anti-Syrian figures enjoyed because they belonged to opposition groups that represented powerful sects.

    "But no one protects us and that's why we feel we're an easy target," he told

    "I think the (Syrian) Baath regime with its Lebanese machine has reached the level of zero tolerance" 

    Walid Fakherddine,
    Leader of the Democratic Left Movement

    Lebanon's political system is based on a delicate and complex sectarian balance drawn up to please the sects, especially the Christian minority.

    Beshara Charbel, editor-in-chief of al-Balad newspaper, agreed, saying that leftists are the "weak group" in Lebanon. "That's why reactions to assassinations targeting leftist figures are limited to an elite and there's no danger of having a huge outrage at this critical stage," he told

    Shuaib, Fakherddine and Charbel said they believed elected MP Elias Atallah, a leader from the Democratic Left, was on the list of assassinations.

    Atallah was in charge of the protests in Martyrs' Square in the lead-up to the Syrian withdrawal from the country earlier this year. He was the military commander of the National Resistance Front fighting Israeli occupation forces during the invasion of Beirut in 1982.

    Atallah has repeatedly called for the immediate resignation of Lahoud.

    Syria denies

    But Syria has repeatedly issued statements denying any involvement in bomb attacks and assassinations that have struck Beirut in the past two months.

    Syrian Expatriates Minister Buthaina Shaaban, who often speaks for the government, denied last week that Damascus had drawn up an assassination hit list in Lebanon.


    "Syria never had a history of hit lists... I think they should look somewhere else unless they want to use this as a pretext to target Syria without finding any proof," she said.


    "The killings in Lebanon are as much dangerous for Syria than they are for Lebanon and therefore it is impossible for Syria to contemplate such a thing," she told CNN, speaking in English.

    The United States accused Syria of drawing up a list of Lebanese politicians for assassinations - a charge the Syrians vehemently denied.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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