A very clear message delivered from assassins
Civil war in Lebanon began with the attempted assasination of Pierre Gemayel in 1975. Gemayel's grandson, his namesake, was shot to death yesterday. Today is Lebanon's independence day -- celebrating independence from France. There are French troops garrisoned in the southern part of the country, and the remaining ministers of the government (24 seats, six vacated by Shiite aligned members and one empty after Gemayel's death) have been accused by Hezbollah of an alliance with the United States.
Al Jazeera reports a second attack yesterday:
Al Jazeera reports a second attack yesterday:
In a second incident, shots were fired on the office of a Lebanese minister of state, shortly after Gemayel's death.Troubling news reported in the Guardian:
"The office of the state minister for parliamentary affairs, Michel Pharaon, in the Ashrafieh neighbourhood was the target of gunshots today from gunmen in a white Suzuki car," Pharaon's office said.
"The security forces cordoned off the area and is carrying out the necessary measures to identify the culprits" who fled the scene.
Pharaon is a Greek-Catholic Christian MP from the majority anti-Syrian parliamentary bloc.
Amid all the destruction that Lebanon has witnessed over the years, the bulletholes in the window of Pierre Gemayel's car yesterday seemed almost insignificant - but their consequences may be tremendous.Robert Fisk:
"This is the most panicked I have ever seen Lebanon," said 27-year-old Habib Batah as anxious Beirut residents left work early, causing huge traffic jams.
At 34, Mr Gemayel was by no means among the most important or prominent of politicians - though that, perversely, may have made him an easier target. His real significance, as often in Lebanese politics, lay in his family name: he was the son of a former president, Amin Gemayel, and grandson of the late Pierre Gemayel, founder of the Christian Phalange party.
The immediate question is what impact his death will have on the anti-Syrian government led by Fouad Siniora. His cabinet was severely weakened earlier this month by the resignation of six ministers, including all five Shia members, and the Shia Hizbullah movement has been threatening to topple it.
With yesterday's killing, Mr Siniora lost a seventh minister. If nine are absent, cabinet meetings become inquorate - triggering the government's collapse. A few days ago Samir Geagea, a Christian leader, warned that three ministers might be assassinated to achieve just that. With Mr Gemayel's death, his prophecy seems to have been partly confirmed.
For days, we had been debating whether it was time for another political murder to ratchet up the sectarian tensions now that the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was about to fall. For days now, the political language of Lebanon had been incendiary, the threats and bullying of the political leaders ever more fearsome. Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Shia Hizbollah leader, had been calling Siniora's cabinet illegitimate. "The government of Feltman," he was calling it - Jeffrey Feltman is the US ambassador to Lebanon - while the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt was claiming Iran was trying to take over.
Yesterday's assassination of Pierre Gemayel was a warning. It might have been Jumblatt, who has told me many times that he constantly awaits his own death, or it might have been Siniora himself, the little economist and friend of the also murdered former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Yet nothing happens by accident in Lebanon and political detectives - as opposed to the police kind who most assuredly will not find Gemayel's killers - have to look beyond this country's frontiers to understand why ghosts may soon climb out of the mass graves of the civil war.
Why did Gemayel die just hours after Syria announced the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iraq after a quarter of a century? Why has Nasrallah threatened street demonstrations in Beirut to bring down the government when Siniora's cabinet had just accepted the UN's tribunal to try Hariri's assassins?
Today, Lebanon celebrates - it would be difficult to find a more lugubrious word on such an occasion - its 63rd year of independence from France, whose troops again patrol southern Lebanon. And Siniora's government still - just - exists. With Gemayel gone, however, it would only need the loss of two more cabinet ministers to destroy the legitimacy of his Shia-less cabinet and close down Lebanese democracy.
The Lebanese may be too mature for another civil war. But ministers might be well advised to avoid driving their ministerial cars along the highways of Beirut for the next few days lest someone blocks their way and fires through the driver's window.