- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2007

BEIRUT — Assassins armed with a powerful car bomb shook West Beirut yesterday, killing an anti-Syrian member of parliament and at least nine others in the latest shock to Lebanon“s fragile political system. Eleven persons were wounded.

Walid Eido, a prominent member of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority who was close to slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed in the blast along with his son, Khaled.

President Bush strongly condemned the attack and indirectly accused Syria of involvement in the blast that killed the lawmaker, reported the Associated Press.

“There has been a clear pattern of assassinations and attempted assassinations in Lebanon since October 2004,” Mr. Bush said yesterday.

“Those working for a sovereign and democratic Lebanon have always been the ones targeted. The victims have always been those who sought an end to Syrian President Assad’s interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs,” he said.”

The late-afternoon blast occurred in an area that is usually crowded with urban beachgoers and is just 200 yards from a heavily guarded Army Swimming Club.

Twisted metal, bits of flesh and pulverized concrete mixed together in a grim scene as rescue workers pulled bodies and survivors from the wreckage.

Mr. Eido was the third member of the anti-Syrian bloc to be killed since the assassination of Mr. Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005, which led to widespread outrage and the swift retreat of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, head of the internal security forces, told The Washington Times that assassins appear to have targeted Mr. Eido as he was leaving the Sporting Club, a beach resort in the Manara neighborhood of Beirut, where he relaxed and played cards daily.

When asked how such a killing might be pulled off with the increased security around Beirut, Gen. Rifi replied: “There is no 100 percent security anywhere in the world.”

The bomb contained at least 165 pounds of explosives, a police source said.

Shattered windows from homes and hotels blanketed a radius of several hundred yards. Rescue workers said 11 persons were taken to nearby hospitals.

The amount of explosives used was much larger than bombs that have gone off in the past few weeks, which have typically used about 30 pounds of explosives. The smaller bombs did little damage. Yesterday’s bomb is a marked escalation.

Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party and one of the top members of the anti-Syrian coalition, blamed Mr. Eido’s murder on Syria, saying it was an attempt to reduce the parliamentary majority and derail an international tribunal established by the United Nations to try suspects in Mr. Hariri“s death.

“The bunch of assassins in Damascus don’t care about international justice,” he said.

Gen. Rifi, an appointee of the Hariri bloc, declined to accuse anyone. “It’s too early to decide who did it,” he said.

Damascus had occupied Lebanon since the end of the country’s civil war in 1990, and it had dominated Lebanese politics until the Hariri assassination.

Mr. Eido’s death was the first political assassination since the Nov. 21 killing of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, an anti-Syrian Cabinet minister.

With Mr. Eido’s death, the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition has a four-member majority in parliament, a whisker-thin edge in the body that will elect Lebanon’s next president after Emile Lahoud, the current, Syrian-installed leader, steps down in September.

Mr. Lahoud and the pro-Western prime minister, Fuad Siniora, are at loggerheads, creating a political stalemate that has paralyzed Lebanon for the past six months, strangled the economy and prompted the United Nations to set up a tribunal to try suspects in the Hariri assassination.

Mr. Eido’s killing put an already twitchy population further on edge and comes while the Lebanese army is still engaged in a standoff with Islamic militants in the north at the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.

More than 60 soldiers have been killed in the three-week battle. Also, eight Israeli jets entered Lebanese airspace yesterday in a sign of increased tensions between the two countries.