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Beirut bombing kills Lebanese general, deepens political crisis

ICC Note

“This is very unusual. It’s the first time in 30 years that the Army has been targeted in this way,”

By Nicholas Blanford

December 13, 2007 Lebanon (The Christian Science Monitor) – The political crisis here deepened Wednesday when a senior Army general was killed in a powerful car bombing, the ninth high-profile attack on a prominent Lebanese in a sporadic campaign of assassinations over the past three years.

Brig. Gen. Francois Hajj was the first senior security official to be killed, causing widespread shock that the highly respected Army would face such an attack.

“This is very unusual. It’s the first time in 30 years that the Army has been targeted in this way,” says a senior Lebanese Army general and friend of General Hajj, who spoke anonymously in accordance with military regulations.

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The bombing “is a message to the Lebanese that the situation in Lebanon will remain fragile and that security will remain a target,” said Ghazi Aridi , Lebanon ‘s minister of information.

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Gen. Michel Suleiman, commander of the Lebanese Army, has been picked as a consensus candidate for the presidency, but his election has become bogged down in a constitutional dispute between pro- and anti-Syrian factions over the process of electing the Army commander as head of state.

The impasse has spurred predictions that an election will not be held at least until the new year and possibly as late as March when the next regular session of Parliament begins.

The already scant hope that a breakthrough on the presidency would occur before the next scheduled vote has been dealt a blow by Hajj’s assassination and is likely to further polarize the stances of the anti-Syrian March 14 bloc, which forms a slim parliamentary majority, and the pro-Syrian opposition.

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“My gut feeling is that this is to do with the past, not the present. It could be revenge. Hajj was not a controversial figure,” says Timur Goksel, a Middle East security consultant and analyst based in Beirut .

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The March 14 bloc was swift to blame Syria for the assassination.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade told the Associated Press that “the Syrian-Iranian axis” had deliberately hit the Army, which he called “the only body in Lebanon who can balance the power of Hizbullah and other militias in the country,” a reference to the powerful Shiite group.

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