- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2005

BEIRUT — A car bomb blasted the motorcade of Lebanon’s outgoing pro-Syrian defense minister yesterday, wounding him and killing one person in an attack that deepened fears of increasing violence.

The assassination attempt against Elias Murr was the latest in a string of bombings that have killed or wounded politicians and other prominent figures in Lebanon. But while the others targeted opponents of Syria — prompting accusations that Damascus was behind the killings — the explosion yesterday was the first to hit one of Syria’s strongest allies.

That heightened concerns that more hands are at play in violence amid Lebanon’s political instability. With Syria’s domination crumbling after the withdrawal of its troops in the spring, its opponents in Lebanon are moving to take power while its allies struggle to retain influence.

The anti-Syrian camp has been trying to form a government after winning a majority in parliament, but haggling over posts has held up the process.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, staunchly pro-Syrian, reportedly has been pressing for Mr. Murr — his son-in-law, who also is deputy prime minister in the outgoing government — to be given a post in the Cabinet.

Mr. Murr was driving his own car in his motorcade through the northern Naqash district, a neighborhood of embassies and diplomatic residences, when a vehicle packed with up to 132 pounds of explosives detonated next to it.

The blast, heard across Beirut, knocked a crater in the pavement, shredded one vehicle in the motorcade and damaged several others. The attack vehicle was hurled over a stone wall into a nearby villa.

Mr. Murr staggered out of his damaged vehicle, bloodied and leaning on passers-by who rushed to help, witnesses said. Twelve others were wounded — including the Mexican ambassador’s wife in a nearby residence — and a charred body was removed from one of the cars.

Speaking in an audiotaped message from his hospital bed, Mr. Murr said: “Thank God, it’s OK. … The country is going through a difficult period, and we all have to bear that.”

Mr. Murr’s father, lawmaker Michel Murr, said his son had been wounded in the face and had burns on the legs and arms, but was out of danger.

Prime minister-designate Fuad Saniora called the attack a “cowardly act” by sides “that do not want stability to be restored to Lebanon and regain its well-being.” Syria called the assassination attempt a “terrorist act.”

Opponents of Syria — who in previous bombings promptly accused Damascus and its allies in Lebanon — were cautious this time.

Saad Hariri, the leader of the anti-Syrian coalition that won a majority in parliament in elections last month, warned of a “secret hand” sowing instability in Lebanon.

Mr. Hariri and his allies won the elections after his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed in a Feb. 14 blast that hit his motorcade in downtown Beirut. His assassination triggered a groundswell of anti-Syrian demonstrations at home and international pressure that eventually ended three decades of Syrian domination of Lebanon.

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