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Bomb kills 7 in Lebanon

The Baltimore Sun

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- A car bomb shook a Christian neighborhood outside Beirut yesterday, killing a Lebanese lawmaker and six other people days before the parliament of this divided country is to hold a presidential election.

The killing of Antoine Ghanem, 64, a member of the Western-backed parliamentary majority, was the sixth assassination in two years to target prominent detractors of neighboring Syria. Some analysts said the killing was an attempt by groups loyal to Syria to reduce the size of a parliamentary bloc supported by the United States and Europe.

The killing, which left scores wounded, stirred fears of increased instability as the country's rival parties continued to joust over electing a successor to President Emile Lahoud. The choice by parliament is likely to determine whether political power in Lebanon leans toward the West or moves closer to Iran and Syria.

Yesterday's explosion occurred about 5:20 p.m., a heavy traffic hour, leaving a large crater, shattering facades of nearby buildings and destroying numerous cars in the relatively affluent residential area of Sin el-Fil.

Police said more than 44 pounds of explosives had been placed under a car, most likely parked, and detonated as the legislator's vehicle passed.

Politicians in Lebanon's ruling majority accused the Syrian government of perpetrating the crime to hamper the election.

"The enemies of Lebanon want to block the presidential election, because they want to kill Lebanon," Saad Hariri, head of the country's parliamentary majority, said in a televised speech.

Hariri said Syria was acting in response to an alleged Israeli strike on its soil, reportedly aimed at a shipment of weapons destined for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

The Bush administration also expressed suspicion of Syrian involvement in the attack.

"It's unfortunate that you can see a pattern here of political assassinations ... specifically directed against those who have opposed Syrian interference and Syrian domination of Lebanon," said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman. "And it's hard to see it as a coincidence."

A parliamentary session to elect a new president is scheduled for Sept. 25, although it was not certain yesterday that the date would stand.

Observers worry that a political deadlock could result in the creation of two governments, paving the way for a new civil war.

"The country is likely heading toward electing a new president, despite the latest assassination," said Michael Young, a Beirut-based political analyst. "But the new president will probably be weak or neutral, and this will ultimately benefit the pro-Syrian opposition."

Ghanem, like many Lebanese politicians, had been living outside Lebanon in fear of being targeted. He returned last week in preparation for the election.

Ghanem was a member of the Christian Phalanges party, founded by the family of former Cabinet minister and member of parliament Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated in November.

In June, Walid Eido, a 65-year-old lawmaker with the anti-Syria coalition, was killed when a bomb exploded as he drove in a Sunni Muslim area of Beirut.

Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 14 others were killed in 2005 in a bombing that led to mass demonstrations and the eventual withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

"This is not a country. We live like dogs here," said Makram Kazzi, 65, a retired pilot. Makram, whose children live in the United States, was sitting in his living room when the blast shook his apartment.

Sevag Abrahamian, a 24-year-old accountant, was driving with his girlfriend when he saw cars blow up in front of him.

"I hold all our politicians responsible," he said. "Why should innocent passers-by pay the price?"

Raed Rafei writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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