Pierre Gemayel, a cabinet minister, has been assassinated in Beirut.
“We strongly condemn this ugly crime. This is a cowardly act that targets the security and stability of Lebanon”
King Abdullah of Jordan
The United Nations Security Council “unequivocally” condemned the killing as it endorsed plans for a special international court to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.
Before the plans were approved, John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, said the Gemayel slaying, which follows 14 other similar killings or assassination attempts on anti-Syria Lebanese politicians in the past two years, “makes clear why we have to support the democratic forces in Lebanon”.
He said: “This is potentially a turning point in the history of that country and therefore of the region.”
The action by the 15-nation council, in the form of a letter to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, cleared the way for the plans to be submitted to the Lebanese government for its formal approval.
The UN investigation into al-Hariri’s murder that is still under way has implicated senior officials from Syria, for decades the power-broker in its smaller neighbour. Damascus strongly denies any connection with the killing.
Diplomats said France’s UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere planned to discuss the Gemayel killing with his council colleagues on the sidelines of a debate on the Middle East later on Tuesday.
French leaders condemned the assassination, with President Jacques Chirac branding it an “odious attack”. Chirac – who has close personal ties with Lebanon – issued a statement condemning the “odious attack” and calling “for the assassins to be prosecuted and punished”.
“Although Lebanon has been hit by this terrible tragedy, France is convinced the Lebanese people’s will for independence, freedom and democracy will emerge even stronger.”
Syria also condemned the killing as “a crime aimed at destabilising” its neighbour.
“This odious crime is aimed at destabilising Lebanon and disturbing the civil peace in the country,” an official source said, quoted by the state news agency Sana.
The source said Syria worked to ensure “the security of Lebanon, its stability and unity of its people, and to preserve its civil peace”.
Faisal Kalthoum, Syrian MP and member of the Central Committee of the Baath Party in Syria, told Al Jazeera: “The security authority [in Lebanon] should search for those who want to create a foothold for Israel [in Lebanon].”
Jordan’s King Abdullah said: “We strongly condemn this ugly crime. This is a cowardly act that targets the security and stability of Lebanon.
“The Lebanese have to unify their ranks at this phase and not allow the preachers of death, disunity and destruction to succeed in creating a split in the cohesion of the Lebanese people.”
In London, Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said: “The news from Lebanon is another example of the kind of region, the kind of neighbourhood we are living [in]. This is another support for what I tried to explain before: this is between moderates and extremists.
“The negative role of Syria in Lebanon is not something new or top secret and only a few weeks ago the international community succeeded in taking Syrian forces and Syria out of Lebanon. But clearly they are trying to be involved even now, but it’s too early to say something more concrete.”
The British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said: “We condemn it. We are dismayed. There are enough problems in Lebanon already and we hope very much that whatever lies behind this, that it is a one off.
“This is the kind of step that can only increase tension in the region rather than lead to greater peace, and obviously from that point of view its something that we deplore it.”
“All I would simply say is, whoever is behind it is absolutely against the interests of every single person in the region to have maintenance of tension to have an increase in tension. This is deeply damaging and cannot be of help and assistance to anyone.”
Tony Blair, British prime minister, condemned the assassination and called for efforts to stabilise Lebanon’s fragile democracy. He said the killing of Gemayel was “completely without any justification at all”.
“We condemn this murder utterly. We need to do everything we can at this moment to protect democracy in Lebanon and the premiership of Prime Minister (Fouad) Siniora.”