Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Syria denies killing general in car-bomb attack

The car bomb in Baabda, a Christian town east of Beirut, killed General Francois El-Hajj and some of his bodyguards

So, they assassinated another one yesterday. A general, Francois El-Hajj by name, not known in Europe but a senior officer and the chief of the Lebanese general army staff, whose battle for the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camps earlier this year made him an obvious target for the Syrians, for the Iranians, for the Palestinians, for just about anyone else you care to note.

Although he was an obvious target, the implications for the current army chief and possible future president - General Michel Suleiman - were devastating.

General El-Hajj was blown to pieces with three of his colleagues at about seven o'clock in the morning as he moved through Baabda, a Christian and supposedly safe suburb of Beirut. He was looked after by his own bodyguards and he was lost by them.

There was no way in which he was going to be saved from the blast. His vehicle was passing a car packed with 35 kilos of TNT when the parked car exploded. The force of the blast, in front of the Baabda municipality buildings, threw the bodies 15 yards and shook the diplomatic quarter. The General, his driver and one bodyguard were confirmed dead. A fourth man is believed to have been killed in the explosion and seven were wounded.

The Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi blamed the Syrians for the assassination although, interestingly, and with great concern for his use of words, Walid Jumblatt, who has constantly blamed the Syrians for attacks on democratic politicians in Lebanon did not do so. Nor did Marwan Hamadi, one of Mr Jumblatt's parliamentary colleagues.

It seems, therefore, that Lebanese politics are changing once again and that those who were enemies of the Syrians are no longer necessarily so.

But Lebanon's appalling pseudo-civil war nonetheless continues. The last assassination was the anti-Syrian member of parliament Antoine Ghamem, murdered in his car on a Beirut street in a Christian area not far from Baabda. Almost every other week we are faced with an assassination. And, much worse, we are supposed to expect it.

When I had dinner with Mr Jumblatt, I made the point that what was terrible about the assassinations was we are beginning to expect them, they are part of our daily life. Every day we are expected to endure an assassination or an attempted assassination, and what is it meant to mean? Syria denied involvement in yesterday's bombing, accusing "Israel and its Lebanese instruments" in a statement from Damascus, of benefiting from the atrocity.

But if this was a warning from Syria, and if General El-Hajj was meant to die - which he did - what is the message for General Suleiman and for all Lebanese?

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