Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 12:11:44 PM EST
Bad news!! - in Lebanon's very tense present situation this seems almost designed to precipitate another Lebanese civil war... or at least to severely hinder a peacefully-negotiated outcome to the current political tussle.
Lebanese Christian leader killed
Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, a Maronite Christian leader, has been killed in the capital, Beirut.
Mr Gemayel, a leading anti-Syrian politician, was reportedly shot in the street in a Christian suburb and rushed to hospital, where he died.
His death comes amid a political crisis in Lebanon, following the resignation of six pro-Syrian cabinet members.
Mr Gemayel was a member of the Phalange Party [Kataeb]and the son of former President Gemayel Amin.
Lebanon's Daily Star gives more details on the manner of the assassination and assorted recent precedents:
Witnesses said Gemayel was shot in his car in Jdeideh. The witnesses said a car rammed Gemayel's car from behind and then an assassin stepped out and shot him at point blank range.
Gemayel was rushed to a nearby hospital seriously wounded he was later confirmed as dead.
Gemayel, the minister of industry and son of former President Amin Gemayel, was a member of the Kataeb party and supporter of parliamentary majority, which is locked in a power struggle with different parties led by Hezbollah.
Gemayel is the fifth figure to be assassinated in the past two years in Lebanon. Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing in February 2005. The journalist and activist Samir Kassir and former Communist Party leader George Hawi were killed in separate car bombings in June last year in addition to lawmaker and newspaper manager Gibran Tueni was killed in a car bombing in December.
Some background on the current state of the Lebanese political arm-wrestling match in the days immediately preceding Gemayel's assassination:
BEIRUT: Hizbullah and its allies have set a date and locations for demonstrations aimed at either forcing the government to resign of bringing about early parliamentary elections, former Defense Minister Abdel-Rahim Mrad said Friday. The announcement came one day after Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told supporters to be ready to take to the streets.
"In the very near future we will witness wide demonstrations in various areas. The date has been set but we will not announce it yet," Mrad told reporters following a meeting of pro-Syrian parties.
The coalition includes the Union Party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, the People's Movement and the Baath Party, among others.
Mrad added that all parties have agreed to stage peaceful street protests until a national unity government is formed.
Hizbullah politburo member Mahmoud Qomati said participants in the demonstrations will also include the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Beirut Gathering.
The FPM said in a statement issued following its weekly meeting that its members "will practice their democratic and constitutional right of demonstrating to correct the political representation."
"The only safety net for this country is a national unity government where all movements take part ... If it becomes impossible to form this [unity] government then the solution would be through early parliamentary elections," it added.
Qomati, who participated in the meeting of the alliance, said: "It is a wide move ... striped of any sectarian or religious feature and gathers all the national parties regardless of their religious belonging."
He added, however, that Hizbullah was still willing to discuss potential solutions to the deadlock, "on the condition that they lead to the formation of a national unity government where all parties are represented equally, or early parliamentary elections."
Qomati's statement coincided with increased diplomatic efforts to contain the crisis before it spills into street protests that many are worried could threaten national stability.
The National News Agency reported Monday that a potential solution being discussed centered on the pro-Syrian forces endorsing an international tribunal to try those accused of former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination in exchange for a national unity government.
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Beirut, Abdel-Aziz Khoja, is leading diplomatic efforts, negotiating primarily between Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Khoja said he is still hoping leaders will reach a deal if they resume national talks, sponsored by Berri, which broke down last week.
Noting in particular that Gemayel's MAJOR rival in the Christian Maronite camp - the "big guy in Lebanon" NEVER named, NEVER mentioned in most anglosphere coverage of Lebanese events - is General Michel Aoun, leader of the Maronite Free Patriotic Movement, which is amongst the anti-Hariri opposition parties that have been supporting Nasrallah's call for a national unity government extended to include more Shi'ite representation - and/or early elections, possibly with a more representative electoral system. If Nasrallah's attempts had been successful, Aoun was slated for a very prominent role in the new government, many expected he'd replace the discredited, hyper pro-Syrian Maronite former general Emile Lahoud as President, as according to recent opinion-poll data the opposition could count on a fairly comfortable election win:
Both sides in Lebanon say they command majority popular support. A key demand of the opposition is reforming the electoral law -- long seen as unfair -- then having early elections. A poll by the Beirut Centre for Research and Information released on Monday found that the opposition (Hizbullah, Christian leader Michel Aoun and allied smaller parties) would win early elections, whichever proposed electoral law they were conducted under.
Under the qada law of small electoral districts to reflect the sectarian mosaic, the opposition would win 69 of the 128 parliamentary seats, the anti-Syrians 59. Under the two proposed modes of proportional representation, the opposition would win 79 to 53 to the anti-Syrians, or 71 to 57. There were 1,300 respondents, split across regions and sects, in the poll conducted in late October.
(Al-Ahram, 9th Nov. 2006)
Now Gemayel's assassination looks likely - amongst other things - to stir up some major inter-Maronite venom as well as more generally precipitating relations between the two camps, viz. the "14th of March" Hariri-supporters camp vs the alliance headed by Nasrallah, Berri and Aoun.
Which in the present tense state of Lebanese political arm-wrestling just could give Lebanon a big push down the slope towards another civil war - which of course would ALSO be bad-bad news for all those European countries (and particularly for France, Italy and Spain) currently engaged - with forces numbering several thousands - in peacekeeping efforts along Lebanon's borders with Israel.