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Lebanese former minister killed in Beirut blast

Former finance minister Mohamad Bahaa Chatah was among five people killed on Friday when a bomb targeted his car in central Beirut, security sources said. Chatah, 62, was a fierce critic of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement.


A correspondent from FRANCE 24’s Arabic channel confirmed that Lebanese security forces had recovered an ID card from the site belonging to Chatah, a Sunni former finance minister and onetime aide to former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005.

Televised reports showed pictures of thick smoke near the Serail, a major commercial district filled with shops, banks and restaurants and the area where Lebanon’s prime minister has his offices. Footage broadcast by Future TV showed people on fire and others lying on the ground as well as fires blazing at several other points while ambulances rushed to the scene.

The army cordoned off the area to prevent people from getting close to the site of the attack, where the twisted wreckage of several cars was still smouldering.

The explosion appeared to be the result of the car bomb, but security officials said they had no immediate confirmation.

Chatah was a fierce critic of Lebanon's influential Shiite Hezbollah movement. A tweet he posted on his Twitter account in the hours before the blast accused Hezbollah of seeking to gain more control in the country.

“Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security and foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 years,” he wrote.

President Michel Sleiman warned in November that Hezbollah's armed support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was posing a threat to Lebanon's "national unity and civil peace".

Sectarian strife

The conflict in Syria has raised tensions between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities as each supports their brethren on opposite sides of the civil conflict next door.

The divide has fueled speculation that Lebanon, still recovering from its own 15-year-long civil war that ended in 1990, is on the brink of descending into full-blown sectarian violence.

Chatah, a prominent economist and former ambassador to the United States, was a close aide to former premier Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a 2005 truck bombing in Beirut not far from Friday’s explosion.

He served as finance minister when Hariri’s son Saad took over as Lebanon’s prime minister and stayed on as his senior adviser after his government collapsed in early 2011, when Hezbollah ministers and their allies resigned from the cabinet en masse.

Beirut has been targeted by several deadly attacks in recent months, including twin bombings in November that targeted the Iranian embassy and blasts in a Hezbollah stronghold in the south of the capital.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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