Beirut explosion
Photo: Reuters

Beirut: Army chief's successor killed

Blast in outskirts of Lebanese capital leaves four dead, including senior army officer General Francois al-Hajj, leading candidate to take over as army commander when current commander General Michel Suleiman is elected president

An early morning bomb attack killed one of Lebanon's top military generals and at least three others as they drove through a Christian suburb of Beirut, putting even more pressure on the country's delicate political situation, the military and state media said.


The military said Brig.-Gen. Francois Hajj, head of military operations in the army command, was killed in the explosion along with his bodyguard. His name had been mentioned as a strong candidate to succeed army commander Michel Suleiman, if he is elected president.

Site of blast in Baabda (Photo: Reuters)


The blast is the first attack of its kind against the Lebanese army which is seen as the one force that can hold the country together as increasingly acrimonious relations between parliament's rival factions over the past several months have paralyzed the government. "


"This morning, the criminal hand targeted head of army operations Brig.-Gen. Francois Hajj with a bomb as he drove in his car opposite Baabda municipality, which led to his death along with a number of soldiers, and wounded others," said the statement.


"The army sealed off the area and has started investigating," it added.


The explosion occurred at 7:10 am on a busy street near Baabda Municipality as school buses and people were setting off for work.


Security officials said Hajj, who lives in the area, had left his home few minutes earlier, probably heading to the nearby Defense Ministry, when the blast detonated near his car, killing him and his bodyguard immediately. It was not immediately clear whether the bomb was packed inside a car or placed on the road itself, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with military rules.


The blast wrecked cars and caused heavy damage in the area, which also houses foreign embassies.


Locked in dispute

The explosion came asLebanon is embroiled in its worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war and amid heightened tensions between pro-government and opposition groups.


The country has been without a president since Nov. 23 when Emile Lahoud left office and a deadlocked parliament failed to elect a successor. The army also crushed Islamic militants in three months of summer fighting in a northern Lebanon Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared that left hundreds dead.


Hajj headed the grounded operations at the camp, which ended in September with the army defeating the Fatah Islam militants.


The bombing came as pro- and anti-government groups were locked in dispute over how to elect the army commander, Gen. Michel Suleiman, as compromise candidate to fill the vacant president's post.


פרסום ראשון: 12.12.07, 07:56
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