Lebanon on brink over assassination

Commentators fear that Lebanon will descend into further political crisis following the assassination at point blank range of anti-Syrian minister and leader of the Maronite Catholic community, Pierre Gemayel.

BBC News reports that the killing of Gemayel, 34, in the capital, Beirut, is the latest in a series of assassinations in Lebanon.

The death of Gemayel, who was shot in his car in a Christian suburb and rushed to hospital, comes amid a political crisis in Lebanon, following the resignation of six pro-Syrian cabinet members.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said such killings would not intimidate the country.

"Assassinations will not terrorise us," he told a press conference. "We will not let the criminal killers control our fate."

But as news of the killing spread, streets emptied and the Lebanese army deployed at key areas across and just outside the capital, the BBC's Beirut correspondent Kim Ghattas reported.

Angry crowds gathered at a main square near the city centre, where some people burnt tyres in protest at killing.

Protests were also reported in Beirut's Christian Ashrafiyeh neighbourhood, in the Christian town of Zahle in eastern Lebanon and in Mr Gemayel's hometown of Bikfaya, east of the capital.

Mr Gemayel, the son of former President Amin Gemayel, was a member of the Phalange Party, which has its political base among Maronite Catholics. Gemayel's grandfather also named Pierre founded the party in 1936. It was one of the main players in the bloody civil war that gripped Lebanon through the 1970s and 1980s.

At least three gunmen rammed Mr Gemayel's car with their vehicle before spraying it with gunfire and shooting Mr Gemayel at point blank range, Reuters quoted witnesses as saying.

Television pictures from the scene of the killing in the Jdaideh neighbourhood showed Mr Gemayel's car peppered with bullet holes and with its bonnet crumpled.

Throngs of angry supporters of Mr Gemayel gathered at the hospital where he was taken, some crying and screaming.

Speaking to the crowds there, Amin Gemayel appealed for calm.

"I call on all those who appreciate Pierre's martyrdom to preserve his cause and for all of us to remain at the service of Lebanon. We don't want reactions and revenge," he said.

However, CNN senior editor for Arab affairs, Octavia Nasr, says that what the assassination means "is really chaos for Lebanon, at least for the short term because this is a government that was struggling with a lot of opposition from Hezbollah and the other pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon".

"Already, the finger has been pointed at Syria, saying Syria is behind the assassination. This is what the majority in government will be saying," Nasr told CNN viewers.

Obituary: Pierre Gemayel (BBC News, 21/11/06)
Pierre Gemayel, Gemayel's death is the latest in a series of assassinations in Lebanon (BBC News, 21/11/06)
Nasr: Killing to create chaos for Lebanese government (CNN, 21/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Pierre Amine Gemayel (Wikipedia)

Lebanon's Maronite bishops reject call for new govt (CathNews, 6/10/06)
Lebanon's "hell on earth": Order of Malta (CathNews, 29/8/06)
Stay in Lebanon: Maronite Archbishop begs his flock (CathNews, 22/8/06)
Bishops and church groups welcome Middle East ceasefire (CathNews, 14/8/06)
Neither retaliation or provocation can justify slaughter: Australian Maronite nun (CathNews, 11/8/06)
Aid agencies call on PM to push for Middle East ceasefire (CathNews, 7/8/06)
Unity and hope amid chaos in Lebanon (CathNews, 2/8/06)
Canberra Christian leaders slam Govt over "cowardly" silence on Middle East (CathNews, 1/8/06)
Benedict calls for miracle as Qana toll reaches 54 (CathNews 31/7/06)
Asian and African migrants "abandoned" in Lebanon, Vatican says (CathNews 27/7/06)
Students taking lead for Middle East peace (CathNews 26/7/06)
Lebanese Maronite bishops plea for UN help (CathNews 25/7/06)
Caritas Lebanon slams milk factory attack (CathNews 21/7/06)
Advertise Lebanon evacuation plans, stranded priest tells Govt (CathNews 20/7/06)

22 Nov 2006