Political assassination, brink of civil war in Lebanon: Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was shot and killed Tuesday afternoon as his convoy drove through a Beirut suburb. The background of the killing remains unclear at the moment and no guilty party has come forward to claim responsibility.
Lebanon has been spiraling towards an unprecedented political rift in recent weeks, approaching the verge of civil war. The al-Arabia network is reporting that the gunman who shot Gemayel managed to flee the scene and apparently was not identified.
Pierre is the son of Amin Gemayel, a former Lebanese president, and is a descendent of one of the most influential and renowned Christian families in Lebanon. He had returned to Lebanon several years ago, after living in France with his family who emigrated there after the Syrian takeover of their country.
He indented to contend in the elections on behalf of the Christian Phalange party. Pierre Gemayel is named after his grandfather and is the nephew of Bachir Gemayel, who was elected president in August of 1982 but was then assassinated in September of that year.
Former President Amin Gemayel, Pierre's father, urged supporters to remain calm and avoid retribution.
"I have one wish, that tonight be a night of prayer to contemplate the meaning of this martyrdom and how to protect this country," he told reporters outside a hospital where the body of his son was taken. "We don't want reactions and revenge," He said.
Saad Hariri, son of murdered Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and head of the largest party in parliament, interrupted a news conference shortly after the assassination and announced the shooting.
Gemayel's perforated vehicle. The shooters escaped. (Photo: Reuters)
"Fifteen minutes ago Pierre Gemayel was shot," Hariri said, his voice cracking as he addressed a crowd of his followers "They want to kill every free man," he later added, alluding to Syria as the entity behind the latest killing.
Political tension rising
Hariri later removed any shred of doubt regarding who he believed was behind the killing in an interview with CNN: "The cedar revolution is under attack...Today one of our main believers in a free democratic Lebanon has been killed. We believe the hands of Syria are all over the place. The people of Lebanon will not give up on the international tribunal. This will make them even more determined. We will bring justice to those who killed Pierre Gemayel," he stated.
Lebanon is in the throes of a political storm pitting the anti-Syrian ruling majority against the pro-Damascus opposition. The political tension threatens to spill into street confrontations.
Two years ago Gemayel expressed his harsh views of Syria's continuous presence in Lebanon, saying that the Syrians determine who will be president of Lebanon.
The deep political crisis in Lebanon was spurred by the decision to establish an international court to investigate the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.
As a result of this decision six Hizbullah ministers resigned from the government, while Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah
simultaneously called the organization's supporters to prepare for a possible mass protest in the streets.
In a speech broadcast by the al Manar network Nasrallah demanded once again that Hizbullah's power be expanded till they represented a third of the government.
Such a change would allow him to topple Siniora's government, which Hizbullah accuses of being allied with the United States and arguing that it has lost its legitimacy since Shiite Muslims are no longer represented. Hizbullah would also be in a position to veto crucial decisions or alternatively demand a general election.
"We all have to be ready, even on the psychological level, to take to the streets," Nasrallah said in a televised interview on al-Manar, clarifying that the protests would not be violent riots but calm protests that would not lead to the damaging of public or private property.
Gemayel's assassination joins a growing list of politically motivated killings in Lebanon which target politicians and intellectuals who publicly voice anti-Syrian views.
Lawmakers recently targeted by car bombs were Gibran Tueni, George Hawi and Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Elias Murr, the latter survived the attempt on his life. Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was also killed in a large scale explosion. Anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir and anchorwoman May Chidiac were also targeted by car bombs, Chidiac survived but lost an arm and a leg.
Tuesday's assassination deviates from the bombing method favored by assassins in Lebanon over the past few years.
Ali Waked and Reuters contributed to this report