Hariri assassination: Lebanese opposition leaders blame Syria, Damascus condemns
At least 10 persons, including former Lebanese premier, were killed and scores were wounded when a huge car bomb exploded Monday afternoon close to the Phoenicia Intercontinental hotel in downtown Beirut. The force of the blast tore off scores of glass fronts of shops and posh boutiques along Beirut's Mediterranean coast. State-run Tele Liban said more than 350 kilograms of explosives were used in the attack.
An hour after the blast officials confirmed that the former prime minister, Rafic al Hariri killed in the blast although minutes after the explosion Lebanese legislator Basses Yammout told The Associated Press from the scene that the famous politician was unharmed.
TV footage showed a burning person struggled to get out of a car through a window, fell on the ground and was helped by a bystander. Hariri's body was rushed from the blast scene to the morgue of the American University Hospital. Six of his bodyguards also died, his Future-TV station said.
Lebanon's state-run news agency said former cabinet ministers Bassel Fleihan and Samir Al Jisir were with Hariri in his bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz limousine at the time of the incident. Jisr's press office said he was not hurt but later the death of him and Fleihan was declared.
There was no credible claim of responsibility. Arab TV Al-Jazeera said its Beirut office received a call from somebody who said a previously unknown group had killed Hariri. The previously unknown Islamist group -- An-Nosra wal Jihad fi Bilad al-Sham (Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria) -- claimed responsibility for the bombing and pledged further attacks on "infidels, renegades and tyrants." The group, in a videotape shown on Al-Jazeera, said it carried out a suicide attack "because of his (Hariri's) close ties with the Saudi authorities."
Hariri, according to local press reports, was planning to contest Lebanon's spring parliamentary elections in alliance with opposition groups demanding a termination of Syria's hegemony in Lebanon.
Lebanese anti-Syrian opposition leaders accused the Syrian and Lebanese authorities for the killing and called for the withdrawal of Syria's troops and intelligence services.
Druze lawmaker and former minister Marwan Hamadeh was explicit in attributing blame. "This a horrible crime and the culprits are well known: they start in Damascus and go through the Lebanese government and the secret service," he told Radio France Internationale.
In Paris, Lebanon's most prominent exile, former army commander Gen. Michel Aoun, blamed Syria for the bombing and what he called the "feeble regime imposed by Syria" for the assassination. "I think all these together are behind this crime," Aoun told Al-Arabiya TV, which is based in Dubai.
Hariri, 59, tendered the resignation of his Cabinet in October 2004. This move came as a protest by Hariri after Syria backed President Lahoud's bid to extend his term.
On his part, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on Monday condemned the "terrorist horrible act" that claimed the life al-Hariri.
"Syria as a government and people announces support to sisterly Lebanon during those dangerous situations and offers condolences to Mr. Rafiq al-Hariri and other victims’ families", President Assad added, according to SANA.
Assad also underlined the "dangerous current circumstances and called upon the Lebanese to boost their national unity against those who seek to arouse disputes and partition in the country."
On his part, Lahoud said after a crisis meeting of security chiefs that Hariri had died as a "martyr for a united Lebanon", and ordered three days of mourning and a state funeral for the former PM. "The cowardly attack carried out by criminals shows the depths of the hatred that they have for this country ... and is aimed at destroying its peace and stability."