July 12, 2005

Pro-Syrian minister wounded in Lebanon car bomb

By Ibon Villelabeitia

ANTELIAS, Lebanon (Reuters) - A car bomb wounded Lebanon's
defense minister and killed two people north of Beirut on
Tuesday in the first of several deadly blasts this year to
target an ally of Syria.

President Emile Lahoud, a close ally of Damascus and
father-in-law of the minister, Elias al-Murr, said "enemies of
Lebanon" were behind the assassination bid and that such
attacks were aimed at plunging the country into civil strife.

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

At least 13 people were also wounded in the explosion.

"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, said 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

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

There have been no arrests in the previous bombings, which
targeted opponents of Syria's past role in Lebanon. In the
country's tangled web of political alliances, it was not clear
who might have been responsible for the latest attack.

"Those who tried to kill... Elias al-Murr today are the
enemies of Lebanon who don't differentiate between Lebanese
belonging to various groups," Lahoud said in a statement.

"Their aim is to deal one blow after another to the symbols
of moderation and nationalism in order to undermine stability
and security in the country and try to ignite strife," he said.


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 destabilize its neighbor.

"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.

Lahoud was among senior officials and Western diplomats who
visited Murr, who is also deputy prime minister, in hospital.

The U.S. embassy condemned the attack, saying in a
statement it was "confident that the Lebanese people will not
be deterred by these crimes from the path of political,
economic and institutional transformation on which they have
embarked." 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

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 a government after recent elections.

(Additional reporting by Khaled Oweis and Leila Bassam)