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Middle East

Lebanon's pro-Syria cabinet under fire after Beirut bomb

Video by Christophe DANSETTE , William HILDERBRANDT

Latest update : 2012-10-20

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati agreed to remain in office on Saturday after offering his resignation to the country’s president. Mikati and his government have come under fire in the wake of Friday’s deadly car bombing in Beirut.

Lebanon's prime minister announced on Saturday he had agreed to stay in office for “the national interest” despite offering his resignation a day after a bomb ripped through the heart of Beirut.

Najib Mikati and his government have come under immense pressure over the bombing, which killed eight, including a top security official, and left scores injured. He offered to quit after holding emergency talks with his cabinet.

But President Michel Sleiman rejected his offer. “He asked that I stay in place because it is not a personal issue but one of the national interest,” Mikati said.

His announcement will not be welcomed by Lebanon’s key opposition groups, who have been calling for the government to quit.

Lebanon’s political opposition bloc, the March 14 Alliance, have said they hold the pro-Syrian government and its prime minister responsible for the Friday’s attack, which killed intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan.

Al-Hassan, who was widely seen as a foe of Syria, had led the investigation that implicated Damascus and Shiite militia Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. It was announced on Saturday al-Hassan will be buried alongside the grave of al-Hariri.

The senior Sunni figure also uncovered a bomb plot that led to the arrest of former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Prime Minister Makiti said on Saturday al-Hassan's investigation in to Samaha and his assassination "cannot be separated".

‘Resign immediately’

Even with the wreckage of the blast still smouldering, accusations quickly began to be directed towards the Syrian regime and its allies in the Lebanese cabinet.

"The government must leave, and we call on Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign immediately," said Ahmad Hariri, secretary-general of the Future movement, reading from a statement.

"Prime Minister Najib Mikati is personally responsible for the blood of General Wissam al-Hassan and the innocent victims of the attack," he added.

Samy Gemayel, a Lebanese MP from the opposition Kataeb party, formerly known as the Christian Phalange, told FRANCE 24 the assassination of al-Hassan meant the Lebanese government had failed its people.


“This government is an ally of Syria, and this government did nothing to prevent such events,” Gamayel told FRANCE 24. “It’s not the first time we have had this kind of event, and this government is always unable to protect the Lebanese people. That’s why we are asking for its resignation.”

Syrian conflict comes to Beirut

Sectarian tensions have blighted Lebanon since the start of the Syrian conflict, where the battle between the Alawite-led regime and Sunni-dominated rebels triggered clashes across the border between Lebanese Sunnis and Alawites based in the north of the country.

But Friday’s bomb-blast brought the Syrian conflict to the heart of the Lebanese capital. It was followed by nationwide protests by Sunni Muslims, who burnt tires and blocked roads in Beirut and the city of Tripoli.

“We are trying to convince all the political parties in Lebanon to stay away from what’s going on in Syria,” Gemayel told FRANCE 24. “We have to defend ourselves from any kind of attack that goes on in Syria and we should not become involved in any way.”

Other opposition leaders have pointed the finger for Friday’s violence directly at Bashar al-Assad. Just hours after the explosion, and with rescue workers still sifting through the debris, former PM Saad Hariri, and son of murdered Rafik Hariri accused Assad and his regime of masterminding the attack.

“We accuse Bashar al-Assad of the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan, the guarantor of the security of the Lebanese," Saad Hariri told a Lebanese television station.

Syria denounces ‘cowardly’ act

Friday’s attack has drawn condemnation from around the globe. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the bombing a "dangerous sign that there are those who continue to seek to undermine Lebanon's stability."

France, the European Union and the UN Security Council also spoke out against al-Hassan’s killing.

“The members of the Security Council reiterated their unequivocal condemnation of any attempt to destabilize Lebanon through political assassinations and demanded an immediate end to the use of intimidation and violence against political figures,” said the 15-nation council in a statement backed by all members.

Syria's Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi issued a statement on Friday describing the bombing as a "cowardly, terrorist act".

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-10-20

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