Car Bomb Kills 5 in Beirut Amid Pre-Election Tension
A car bomb tore through a bustling shopping center in Christian East Beirut on Tuesday, killing five people and wounding 25 in violence fueled by a political crisis over electing a new Lebanese president.
Police said a member of Parliament, Josef Skaff, was slightly wounded as his convoy passed through the area. His four bodyguards were also hurt, and one bodyguard was in critical condition.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, but a Christian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, charged that the bombing was intended to block a meeting of Christian members of Parliament to discuss possible presidential candidates. The Tuesday meeting went ahead as planned, with 27 of the 41 Christians in Parliament in attendance.
Political sources said an agreement was reached at the meeting to nominate Raymond Edde, a veteran Maronite Christian politician.
Edde, who has lived in Paris since 1976 after surviving three assassination attempts in Beirut, announced last week that he plans to run for president.
Car bombs have killed at least 108 people in Lebanon this year.
Term Ends Friday
Tension has increased sharply with both Christian and Muslim forces trying to impose their own candidates to succeed President Amin Gemayel, whose six-year term ends Friday.
The crisis deepened after Christian leaders Sunday rejected a Syrian-American agreement to appoint a Maronite member of Parliament, Mikhail Daher, as president.
The 76 surviving members of the 99-seat Parliament are due to meet on Thursday to try to agree on Gemayel’s successor.
Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, predicted Tuesday that the presidential succession crisis would get worse and lead to the permanent division of the country.
Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, told a reporter in Damascus that the election will probably not be held because of the Christian leadership’s rejection of candidates backed by Syria.
“The situation is moving toward escalation,” said Jumblatt, speaking at his party’s office in the Syrian capital.
“Lebanon is now at a crossroads which is more dangerous than the nomination of a president. It is either a united Lebanon or an Arab and Israeli-Western Lebanon.”
The crisis began Aug. 18 when Christian lawmakers boycotted the parliamentary electoral college. The boycott, which deprived the session of a quorum, thwarted the election of the front-runner, former President Suleiman Franjieh, a Maronite supported by Syria.
Asked whether violence would flare again in Lebanon’s 13-year-old civil war, Jumblatt said:
“We hope this will not happen, but the escalation is coming from the army, (Maronite) Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and the Lebanese Forces. . . . It seems Lebanon is moving toward division.”
The hard-line Christian Lebanese Forces militia, led by Samir Geagea, is implacably opposed to Syria’s role in Lebanon. Syria, the major power broker in Lebanon, has 30,000 troops in the country.
According to an unwritten national covenant dating back to Lebanon’s independence from France in 1943, the president is a Maronite, the Speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim and the premier a Sunni Muslim.