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Lebanon U.S.-targeted blast raises stakes

ICC Note

“Someone does not want a president or diplomats in Lebanon ,”

By Sana Abdallah

January 16, 2008 Lebanon (Middle East Times)-The bomb attack on a U.S. embassy car in northeastern Beirut Tuesday has raised the country’s presidential crisis to a new level, by further pressuring Lebanon ‘s belligerent politicians to agree to resolve their differences or risk a total security collapse.

This is the first time in two decades that U.S. interests in Lebanon have been directly targeted, and this attack comes as the latest in a wave of bombings against politicians and journalists followed the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

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Lebanese commentators and politicians on Wednesday widely speculated on the “messages” the attack carried, in terms of its target and timing.

Some suggested it was a message for U.S. President George W. Bush, who wrapped up his eight-day Middle East tour in Egypt Wednesday, on a trip that was widely seen as a mission to support Israel and subjugate any opposition to Tel Aviv and Washington in the region.

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The Lebanese Hezbollah-led opposition accuses the United States , through its diplomats, of fueling the internal crisis between the ruling pro-Western March 14 Alliance and the opposition, some of whom are backed by Syria and Iran . The two camps have been locked in dispute over electing a president. The country has been without a head of state since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud’s term expired on Nov. 23.

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Speaking at Egypt ‘s Sharm el-Sheikh resort on Wednesday, Bush told Syria , Iran and their allies to “end their interference and efforts to undermine” the election of a president.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah denounced the latest attack during a religious ceremony on Tuesday night, warning that such bombings “can lead to negative consequences and will reflect on the country’s stability.”

Politicians and analysts on all sides agreed that Tuesday’s blast was a serious setback for the fragile stability of the country, where already tight security was beefed up still further with new army checkpoints.

“Someone does not want a president or diplomats in Lebanon ,” Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, from the ruling March 14 Alliance , told the Middle East Times. “They want to take us back to the years of the 1980s when chaos and instability prevailed.”

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Many Lebanese commentators believed the blast, which took place less than 24 hours ahead of a visit by Arab League’s chief Amr Moussa, was an attempt to torpedo the organization’s efforts to resolve the presidential crisis.

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Although Syria and Iran say they back the Arab plan, which the ruling coalition has accepted, the opposition is insisting on assuming a third of the ministries in a new government to have veto over key decisions.

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