Gunmen open fire on Lebanese minister's convoy, killing two

Saleh al-Gharib, the minister of state handling refugee issues, was heading to a village when his convoy was attacked.

    Al-Gharib's party is allied with Hezbollah and supports the Syrian government [File: Bilal Hussein/AP]
    Al-Gharib's party is allied with Hezbollah and supports the Syrian government [File: Bilal Hussein/AP]

    Gunmen have opened fire on the convoy of a Lebanese minister in a mountain village near Beirut, killing two of his guards and wounding another, in what he called an assassination attempt.

    Saleh al-Gharib, the minister of state handling refugee issues, told local TV he was heading to the mountain village of Qabr Shamoun when his convoy came under fire on Sunday.

    "What happened was an armed ambush and a clear assassination attempt," al-Gharib said in an interview with Lebanon's al-Jadeed TV.

    Gharib is a member of a party allied with Hezbollah and supportive of the Syrian government, and has close ties with pro-Syrian Druze leader Talal Arslan.

    "Despite bloodshed, we are working to calm the situation," al-Gharib told Lebanese newspaper Annahar.

    Lebanese state news agency NNA reported that the violence erupted in 30km southeast of Beirut, where followers of the Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), a vocal critic of the Syrian government, had blocked a road to prevent Foreign Minister Jubran Bassil, an ally of the Syria-allied Hezbollah movement, from visiting the area.
          
    As al-Gharib's convoy tried to pass, an argument followed by shooting took place between both sides, leaving three bodyguards and a PSP follower injured, NNA added.
          
    Two of the three bodyguards later died of injuries at the hospital.

    The PSP said in a statement that al-Gharib's guards opened fire "randomly" at a group of people who were closing the road to prevent Bassil from passing.

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    It said a PSP supporter was wounded in the shooting, and that others who had weapons opened fire at al-Gharib's convoy, killing two of his guards.

    The PSP is led by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. Like most Lebanese, the Druze are fiercely divided over the war in neighboring Syria, with some supporting President Bashar al-Assad's government and others aligned with the opposition.

    Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for the country's Higher
    Defence Council to meet on Monday to discuss the incident.

    The Lebanese army sent reinforcements to the area.

    The area, where the incident took place near the city of Aley, is loyal to anti-Damascus Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose Progressive Socialist Party denied any involvement in the incident.

    SOURCE: News agencies