A Lebanese politician died when his booby-trapped car exploded in hills east of the capital, Beirut, yesterday.
Sheik Saleh Aridi, a senior member of the Lebanese Democratic party, had been trying to reconcile rival factions within the Druze community, a minority Muslim sect split along pro- and anti-Syrian lines.
Police said the bomb that killed him was planted in his car in the village of Baissour. It was the first Lebanese political assassination in about a year.
Lebanon – particularly the Beirut area – has experienced a period of relative calm since late May, when an agreement was signed in Doha, Qatar, to end street fighting that claimed at least 65 lives.
On Monday, rival parties in the northern city of Tripoli signed a reconciliation deal to end the deadly fighting that had persisted there.
The prime minister, Fuad Siniora, contacted Druze leaders and joined them in calling for calm after Aridi’s assassination.
Six other people were injured in the explosion, which happened as the politician got into his Mercedes in front of his home in the Druze-populated hills near the resort town of Aley.
Police said an explosive charge was stuck under the car’s body below the driver’s seat and blew up as the vehicle started. Officials believe it was triggered either by remote control or a motion sensor.
The US expressed its concern over the bombing and said its support of the Lebanese government was “unwavering”. The bomb’s target was unusual – Aridi, like his party, backed Syria, which has long dominated politically divided Lebanon.
Most victims of political assassinations have opposed Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs, most notably the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Hariri’s killing, which happened in 2005, triggered the “cedar revolution” that led to the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Lebanon’s political impasse between pro- and anti-Syrian factions boiled over into fighting in Beirut and the Druze hills earlier this year.
Shia fighters from the Syrian-backed Hizbullah overran Sunni pro-government strongholds and fought an anti-Syrian Druze faction in the region where the bomb went off last night.
An Arab-brokered agreement in Doha calmed the situation, leading to the election of a new president and the formation of a national unity cabinet.
Nazih Abu Ibrahim, a colleague of Aridi in the party’s political bureau, said the aim of the assassination was to rekindle violence between rivals in the Druze community.
The Druzes are split into two main factions – the Lebanese Democratic party, led by Talal Arsalan, and the Progressive Socialist party of Walid Jumblatt. Arsalan is allied to Hizbullah and Jumblatt is a prominent leader of the anti-Syrian camp.
“It was a bloody message,” Ibrahim said on Hizbullah’s al-Manar television, noting that the conciliatory atmosphere of recent weeks had prompted party officials to relax security measures.
Since the fighting in May, the two leaders have worked towards reconciliation within the Druze sect.
Aridi was a key middleman between the two sides and helped mediate an end to the fighting between Hizbullah and Jumblatt’s men in the region around his hometown.
Reprinted from The Guardian, Thursday, September 11, 2008.