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French Version

Lebanon bomb wounds pro-Syrian minister

A powerful car bomb wounded pro-Syrian Defence Minister Elias al-Murr and killed two people north of Beirut on Tuesday in the latest of several deadly attacks to shake Lebanon this year.

A security source said the bomb that targeted Murr's motorcade in the Christian suburb of Antelias consisted of about 100 kg (220 pounds) of explosives, detonated by remote control.

Twelve people were also wounded in the blast, which was heard from several kilometres (miles) away.

"I know the country is going through a difficult phase and we all have to be steadfast until this phase passes," Murr, wounded in his face and hand, told Voice of Lebanon radio from his hospital bed.

Medics removed a charred body from a mangled car after the blast, which wrecked several vehicles in a wealthy hillside area overlooking the Mediterranean. Blood stained the road. Smoking vehicle parts were blown into the garden of a nearby villa.

It was the latest in a series of bombings and assassinations in Lebanon since the February 14 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and the first to target a pro-Syrian figure.

Syria, suspected by many Lebanese of having a hand in Hariri's death and other attacks, denies involvement. Damascus, which withdrew its troops from Lebanon in April, said the attempt on Murr's life was meant to destabilise its neighbour.

"These acts of terror target Lebanese from all political streams, which affirms that those behind them are directly linked to the enemies of Lebanon and stability in the region," said an official source quoted by the state news agency SANA.

President Emile Lahoud, a close ally of Syria and Murr's father-in-law, was among senior officials who visited the Greek Orthodox Christian defence minister in hospital.


"I saw the motorcade coming up the street and then there was a huge explosion," George Aouad, 14, told Reuters at the scene.

"I saw a car on fire. Two drivers with blood dripping from their faces took the minister from the back seat, put him in a car and drove away."

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a fierce foe of Syria, linked the attack on Murr with the investigation into Hariri's death.

"There is a plan to liquidate those with information about the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri," he said. "There is a total security breakdown in Lebanon and until we reach a new political order we are going to see these criminal actions."

A United Nations team is investigating Hariri's killing.

Although Murr is regarded as pro-Syrian, his father has forged a political alliance with Michel Aoun, a Christian former general who returned in May after 14 years of forced exile for leading a revolt against the Syrian military presence.

"Murr had access to information about movements and terrorist organisations in the country and he was definitely exposed to such an attack," Aoun told al-Manar television.

Aoun and his supporters won 21 seats in Lebanon's recent parliamentary election, the first since the Syrian pullout.

Investigators cordoned off the area of the explosion, which gouged a crater several metres (yards) across.

The wife of the Mexican ambassador was slightly wounded in the explosion that was near the Mexican and Bolivian embassies, embassy sources said. She did not require hospital treatment.

The blast occurred as Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora was trying to form Lebanon's first government since Syrian troops withdrew from the country in April.

Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon for decades, ended its military presence in its smaller neighbour under intense Lebanese and international pressure following Hariri's killing.

Samir Kassir, a journalist who vocally opposed Syria's past role in Lebanon, was killed on June 2 by a bomb placed in his car. Anti-Syrian politician George Hawi, a former leader of the Communist Party, was killed in similar style on June 21.

Both men, like Murr, were Greek Orthodox.

beirut 12-07-2005
Ibon Villelabeitia

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