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French Version


Assassination of Hajj adds to pessimism among Beirutis

A car bomb explosion on Wednesday targeting a senior army commander, General Francois Hajj, marked the seventh in a string of political assassinations that have daunted Lebanon since the 2005 attack on former Premier Rafik Hariri.

The latest tragedy comes at a time when the nation continues to suffer in a deep crisis of political division preventing the election of a new president.

The Daily Star went to the Beirut neighborhood of Hamra for a local perspective.

Monday morning's attack in the Christian suburb of Baabda that killed Hajj was the first of such strikes strike against a Lebanese army official. With the head of the military, General Michel Suleiman, being a likely candidate to take up presidency, Hajj had been considered a probable replacement.

As chief of operations, Hajj led the military campaign and eventual victory against Fatah al-Islam at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli last summer.

The killing of Hajj and its timing raised speculation as to who may be behind the bombing. The attack's occurrence in the highly secure neighborhood of Baabda, home to several international embassies and the military's headquarters, also raised questions about security capabilities in Lebanon.

"People have gotten used to these attacks happening over and over again and anyone you ask will express this feeling of numbness. With the way things continue to be, it is no surprise that another attack has happened. However, what is especially crucial about this attack is that it happened to an army general and at a time when the country has no president to turn to. This element worries me more then anything else," said Omar Doughan, 22.

For Mahmoud Kodeih, 29, political violence in Lebanon has become common game.

"We are used to these things happening," said Kodeih. "I go out and carry on with my regular routine regardless of when this happens. News to me is just something I see on TV."

Marwan Hrajli, 17, also felt apathy, saying: "We have gotten so accustomed to the situation that it doesn't affect us anymore. I don't think many people care about this stuff as much as they used to."

Many respondents indicated anxiety and added insecurity over the fact that the attack targeted a military commander. Speculation over internal involvement were especially common among those who spoke to The Daily Star.

"Those whose responsibility is to ensure security over the civilian population have failed in securing themselves," said Sarah Zgheib, 20. "I feel that internal involvement from within the army must have taken place for such an act to be carried out. Nothing can be expected anymore, especially under our current condition of not having a president."

Ibrahim Berjawi, 72, echoed this view.

"There are many people, be it in the government or Syria or whoever, that just don't want a president for Lebanon. They benefit more from the way the country exists now, which is under chaos. What happened today is a very important sign," said Berjawi. "It indicates that the army is not capable of protecting its own."

"This latest situation was internally cooked in their kitchen," said Kodeih.

Despite the common theme of insecurity respondents expressed a common admiration for the army.

Yousef Hishi, 50, said the crisis existing in the political sector has an effect on all other sectors as well, be it civil society or military security.

"The continuing divisions that are paralyzing the government will affect the security for sure," he said. "The army was hit and this is something scary. The connection between the slaying of General Hajj and the current elections is undeniable."

Others suggested a link to Fatah al-Islam.

"It's too easy to just connect this to the elections," said Khaled, 38. "Although a lot has happened politically in the past couple of months, we shouldn't forget that we not too long ago defeated a militia in the north that may still want revenge."

The reccurrence of politically motivated violence has left many frustrated and fed up.

"The situation is bad all around and I am just disgusted with the whole thing," said Marie Dib, 40. "I travel regularly and I can tell you that Lebanon is the best place in the world but these politicians are ruining it dramatically. As far as I'm concerned, all the politicians should be thrown into the sea."

Beirut 13-12-2007
Redaction
The Daily Star



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