- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

BEIRUT (AP) — A powerful bomb killed an anti-Syria lawmaker and six others yesterday in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut, threatening to derail an effort by an already deeply divided parliament to elect Lebanon’s next president in voting to begin next week.

Antoine Ghanem, a 64-year-old member of the Christian Phalange party who had returned from refuge abroad only two days earlier, was the eighth anti-Syria figure and fourth lawmaker from the governing coalition to be assassinated in less than three years.

Coalition members blamed Syria. Damascus denied involvement, as it has for the previous seven assassinations, including the 2005 bombing death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — a killing that ignited huge protests that forced Syria to withdraw its troops after a three-decade occupation.

Security officials said at least 67 persons were wounded in yesterday’s blast, half of whom had left the hospital by day’s end. The explosion occurred at rush hour on a busy street in the Sin el-Fil district, severely damaging nearby buildings, setting several cars on fire and scattering blood and debris along the street.

Cabinet member Ahmed Fatfat also blamed Syria for the attack, saying Damascus wanted to derail efforts by majority and opposition leaders to reach some accommodation as they begin presidential voting in parliament on Tuesday.

President Emile Lahoud, an ally of Syria, also implied Mr. Ghanem’s death was meant to undermine the presidential vote, saying “it is no coincidence that whenever there are positive signs” someone is killed.

The United States has accused Syria of trying to undermine Lebanon’s government but has stopped short of tying the Damascus regime to the political killings.

“The bombing that claimed these lives was another in a campaign of terror by those who want to turn back the clock on Lebanon’s hard-won democratic gains,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. “Enemies of peace and freedom want to gain through violence, threat and intimidation what they cannot win in free and fair elections.”

The assassination of anti-Syria figures began with the killing of Mr. Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005, in a bombing that killed 20 others. Mammoth demonstrations coupled with international pressure forced Syrian troops to leave, and Lebanese elected a government led by anti-Syria politicians.

Since then, U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has been mired in a power struggle with the opposition, led by the Syrian-allied militant group Hezbollah. Government supporters accuse Syria of seeking to end Mr. Siniora’s small majority in parliament by killing off lawmakers in his coalition, which now holds 68 seats to the opposition’s 59.

With the loss of Mr. Ghanem and the earlier killing of Pierre Gemayel, the Phalange party — one of the main political and military powers during the 1975-90 civil war — is left with just one representative in parliament.

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