News from Lebanon: Beirut mourns murdered MP
- Beirut mourns murdered MP
Mark Tran and agencies
Friday September 21, 2007
Thousands of mourners today attended the funeral of an
anti-Syrian MP whose assassination has deepened
Lebanon's worst political crisis since the 1975-1990
Mourners packed the streets in east Beirut, waving the
white and green flag of the rightwing Phalange party
to which Antoine Ghanem belonged - as did the former
industry minister Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated
Party anthems blared from loudspeakers as pallbearers
carried Ghanem and his two bodyguards' coffins, draped
in Lebanese and Phalange flags, to the Sacre Coeur
"This is a crime. We want Lebanon to be free of
foreign forces and to be independent. We want the
Lebanese to live together as brothers, from all
sects," one mourner, Ghaleb Shayya, told Reuters.
Ghanem, 64, who represented the Christian party, and
six others died in a car bomb attack on Wednesday.
The killing, which drew widespread international
condemnation, has deepened fears that the divided
country may lurch into further political turmoil.
The timing of the assassination, the sixth anti-Syrian
politician to die since a truck bomb killed the former
prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, came
just days before parliament meets to elect a new
The death of Ghanem means the ruling alliance of
Sunni, Christian and Druze factions - with 68 MPs in
the 128-member assembly - now has only a slim majority
over the opposition bloc that includes the Syrian- and
Rival leaders last night reportedly discussed how to
defuse a 10-month-old political crisis that has
paralysed Lebanon's institutions, but it was highly
unlikely they could strike a deal in time for next
"Things have not collapsed but more time is needed to
ease tension. A compromise is still possible,
eventually," said a senior opposition source.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, this week
warned that the failure to elect a new president could
lead to two governments and two presidents, "a very
worrisome situation for the peace and security of not
only Lebanon, but also peace and security in the
The president, who is elected for a one-off six-year
term, has limited powers. But the post, which is
reserved for the country's Maronite Christian
minority, is ostensibly seen as a figure of unity.
The US-backed government led by the prime minister,
Faoud Siniora, is looking to parliament to elect
someone less pro-Syria than the current president,
Emile Lahoud. MPs allied to the prime minister
appealed to the world to protect Lebanon from what
they called a "new war" by Syria.
"The Syrian regime has taken the decision to bring
down the Lebanese republic," the anti-Syrian coalition
said in a statement released after a meeting
yesterday. "It has assigned its intelligence agencies
to liquidate the lawmakers."
Damascus has denied any involvement in Ghanem's death
or in the recent spate of assassinations.
"Of course, we condemn the Lebanese assassination,"
Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, said
Pro-west Lebanese MP is killed by Beirut car bomb
· Victim was possible presidential candidate
· Attack 'intended to sabotage political deal'
Hugh Macleod in Beirut
Thursday September 20, 2007
Less than a week before Lebanon's divided parliament
was to begin electing a new president amid the
nation's worst political crisis since the end of the
civil war a leading Christian MP, touted as a possible
compromise candidate, was assassinated by a huge car
bomb last night. Antoine Ghanem, a Christian Maronite
MP in Lebanon's Phalange party, was killed along with
at least five others when a bomb exploded in the Sin
el-Fil neighbourhood of predominantly Christian east
The explosion tore through neighbouring buildings,
blowing doors off hinges and sending shards of glass
flying at terrified residents, injuring at least 30
"We heard a huge bang, the lights went out and then we
saw the flames," said Toufic Chebib, manager of a
flower shop a short distance away from the attack.
The site of the blast was less than a few hundred
metres from the residence of the former president and
head of the Phalange party, Amin Gemayel, whose son,
Pierre Gemayel, was gunned down last November. Mr
Ghanem, 64, a lawyer, had been a member of parliament
since 2000 and became the sixth figure allied to the
ruling pro-west majority to be assassinated since the
murder in 2005 of the billionaire prime minister Rafik
Hariri. The government blames Damascus, once the power
broker in Lebanese affairs, for Hariri's murder and a
string of more than a dozen other killings of figures
opposed to Syrian influence in Lebanon. Damascus has
consistently denied the charge, though an ongoing UN
investigation into Hariri's death found evidence of
the involvement of Syrian intelligence officials in
"This is an attack aimed at sabotaging all efforts to
reach a solution to the current political crisis,"
said Butros Harb, an MP and presidential candidate
yesterday. "You cannot separate this killing from the
The outgoing president, Emile Lahoud, whom many in
Lebanon consider a Syrian puppet following the
extension of his term at the behest of Damascus, is
due to step down by November 24. With the latest
assassination underscoring the deep political and
security crises blighting Lebanon, some analysts see
the next election as a vital test of the state system.
"The election is a challenge to the whole nature of
Lebanon's governing system," said Rami Khouri,
director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American
University of Beirut. "As well as the ideological
issues Lebanese politicians are arguing about, there
are self-preservation issues about the balance of
confessions and the sustainability of the current
Bomb kills deputy and threatens to topple Lebanese
By Robert Fisk in Beirut
Published: 20 September 2007
Antoine Ghanem was an easy target. Few bodyguards, no
one would think that a member of parliament who
represented the Armenians of Lebanon was a target. The
little street in which he lived tall tower blocks,
boutiques, flower shops, was not a place where you
would try to kill an enemy of Syria if he was an
enemy of Syria but Antoine was blasted to pieces in
his car as he left his home yesterday evening.
And that means there is one left in the government to
make up the numbers. In other words, it only takes one
more murder for the democratically elected government
of Lebanon to fall.
Only a few weeks ago, Walid Jumblatt called me after
Ghanem's predecessor was murdered. "Two more to go,
Robert," Walid said. And so, tonight, it is one.
To describe the tangled wreckage of the car bomb, the
vile, obscene, traces of Mr Ghanem and his bodyguards,
has become a kind of routine horror in Lebanon.
Those of his cortege who did not die took me last
night to the revolting remains of his death.
Lebanon is not a democracy in our Western sense of the
word. Nor, for that matter, is Israel. "Democracy", as
we like to call it in the West, does not sit easily in
this part of the world.
But Lebanese politicians for the most part but not
always, men, are brave folk who know the cost of
standing up for their country against its more
powerful neighbours, be those neighbours Israel or
There will be few in this country last night and
today and tomorrow who will not see Ghanem's
murder as another attempt by the Syrians to destroy
any form of freedom in this little country. There will
be equally little proof that shows Syria to blame.
The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy not to mention
Gordon Brown will not "tut-tut" this outrageous
killing, but it is only a few days before the Lebanese
must vote for their next president, and now they will
have one less member of parliament to vote for that
And that is what yesterday's massive car bomb was
about. Mr Ghanem, who was a 60-year-old member of the
right-wing Christian Phalange Party founded in
Lebanon when its leader, Pierre Gemayel, was inspired
by the Nazi Olympics of 1936 was the eighth
anti-Syrian politician murdered since 2005. His
assassination occurred only six days before parliament
in Beirut was to elect a new president.
At least 22 people were wounded in the explosion of
the bomb which killed him in the capital's Sinal-Fil
district. It appeared that the car bomb was detonated
by remote control.
Ghanem's car was blown at least 150ft away by the
explosion. One of the pro-government ministers Ahmed
Fatfat, later said that it was "clear that lawmakers
from the majority party are being liquidated".
It was, he said, "The only regime that does not want
presidential elections in Lebanon to be held. The only
response to the crime should be for parliament to
convene on 25 September and to elect the president.
"Every member who does not take part would be a direct
or indirect participant in the crime."
Lebanese parliamentarians, who now take part in a
bidding for next month's parliamentary elections, were
outdone yesterday by the former president Amin
Gemayel, whose son was assassinated last year. "It's
no more a question of presidential elections," he
said. "It's a question of the survival of this country
and democracy in the country that's at stake for the
time being. This criminal act aims at undermining
efforts paid by Syria and others to achieve Lebanese