Monday 25 September 2017

Pro-Western critic of Assad is killed by huge car bomb

Former minister Mohamad Chatah and five other people were killed in a massive bomb blast that targeted his car in Beirut, Lebanon. MOHAMED AZAKIR
Former minister Mohamad Chatah and five other people were killed in a massive bomb blast that targeted his car in Beirut, Lebanon. MOHAMED AZAKIR

Richard Spencer and Ed Woodhouse Beirut

A prominent pro-Western former Lebanese minister was assassinated by a powerful car bomb in the capital Beirut in what is certain to fan sectarian tensions already soaring because of the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

Mohamad Chatah was the target of a bomb in the city's centre that also killed his driver and at least four other people.

Mr Chatah had been ambassador to the US, finance minister, financial adviser to Rafiq Hariri -- the prime minister killed by a car bomb in almost the exact same spot in 2005 -- and is still a senior adviser to the now-exiled Saad Hariri, Rafiq's son and leader of the Sunni-led Future Movement party.

An hour before he died, Mr Chatah, who was outspokenly critical of the Bashar al-Assad regime, tweeted an angry denunciation of Syria-backed Hezbollah.

In an earlier tweet he had written: "Arafat, then Assad then Nasrallah. If Lebanon is not saved from its current path, history will tell how the third blow led to its downfall."

He was killed as he headed to Saad Hariri's mansion to attend a meeting of the pro-Western March 14 coalition.

The coalition was quick to imply Hezbollah's involvement.

Damascus, and Hezbollah in turn, denied the accusations, calling the act a "heinous crime".

Former Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati said: "We condemn the assassination of former minister Mohamad Chatah and condemn acts of violence and murder, but (hope) they don't lead to more war and devastation damaging our homeland."

PROTESTS

Syria was the main power-broker in Lebanon following the end of the civil war until it was forced to withdraw following popular protests against Mr Hariri's assassination, for which it is blamed. Four members of Hezbollah, which is close to the Syrian government of Mr Assad, have been accused of carrying out the murder.

It was not immediately clear yesterday why Mr Chatah was targeted, but some analysts suggested it could a be tit-for-tat revenge for the assassination of a Hezbollah commander last month.

The blast went off just hundreds of yards from the parliament building but was heard across the city. A large mushroom cloud could be seen from miles away after one of the most powerful explosions to hit Beirut in recent years.

Cars were still on fire and bodies were in the street of the upscale area when reporters arrived on the scene. At least 70 people were injured.

The security situation in Lebanon, which had recovered after the civil war and again after the killing of Rafiq Hariri, has fast deteriorated in the last three years.

As clashes in neighbouring Syria turned to civil war, Lebanon took sides with Sunni politicians and groups, including supporters of Mr Hariri, sending arms to the rebels and Hezbollah sending men to fight alongside troops loyal to Mr Assad.

This led to fighting inside Lebanon itself, both in the border areas and on sectarian front lines, particularly in the northern city of Tripoli.

The loss of Mr Chatah will be a serious blow to the Future Movement. A former economist for the International Monetary Fund, he had remained in Lebanon, unlike Mr Hariri who says it is too dangerous for him to return, and he had won substantial support in the West as a competent political figure. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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