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ANTI-SYRIAN CRITIC ASSASSINATED; UN TRIBUNAL TO INVESTIGATE JOURNALISTS' MURDERS

A bomb that exploded in Beirut's seafront on 13 June killing a vocal politician and eight others was the latest in a series of targeted attacks on anti-Syrian politicians and journalists, report human rights groups and press reports.

Wahid Eido, an MP with the Lebanese ruling party, was driving with his son and two bodyguards in Beirut when a bomb rigged to a parked vehicle nearby tore through their car, killing them and six others in the vicinity, and injuring 11 bystanders. According to Amnesty International, the government was quick to blame Syria, although Damascus denies any involvement.

Eido was a strong opponent of the Syrian authorities, and one of the leaders of the demonstrations in Lebanon following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. Amnesty reports that Hariri's assassination led to mass protests resulting in the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country, and fuelled a spate of attacks on anti-Syrian critics.

Just three days before Eido was killed, the UN Security Council established an international criminal tribunal jointly with Lebanon to prosecute the masterminds behind Hariri's murder and the assassinations that followed. According to news reports, the court is opposed by both Syrians and their allies in Lebanon.

Anti-Syrian journalists were among those targeted by unknown assailants after Hariri's assassination and whose attacks will be probed by the tribunal, reports CPJ. Rights organisations in Lebanon, such as Maharat Foundation and the Samir Kassir Foundation, had been calling for the UN to include journalists in the tribunal's scope. Samir Kassir, a columnist for the daily "Al-Nahar" and a leading figure in the Democratic Left movement, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in June 2005. May Chidiac, a political talk show host with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, lost an arm and a leg in September 2005 when a bomb exploded in her car near Jounieh. Gebran Tueni, managing director for "Al-Nahar" and parliamentarian, was assassinated in December 2005 by a bomb that targeted his armoured vehicle. Their cases remain unsolved.

The tribunal joins another UN-sponsored initiative, an international investigation commissioned to probe Hariri's assassination and 22 others. Yesterday, the UN Security Council approved Lebanon's request for "technical assistance" from the commission to aid in the investigation of Eido's murder.

The killing of Eido comes at a time when the country's stability is already at risk. For more than three weeks the Lebanese army has been engaged in a continuing battle with members of Fatah al-Islam, an Islamist armed group, at a Palestinian refugee camp in the north. According to Amnesty, at least 130 people have been killed as a result of the fighting at Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, including at least 27 civilians, and more than 20,000 Palestinian refugees have been forcibly displaced. The fighting has also sparked a series of night time bomb explosions in and around Beirut - killing few, but injuring many - that Amnesty says "appears calculated to cause political instability."

Visit these links:
- Amnesty International: http://tinyurl.com/35nrvh
- CPJ on tribunal: http://tinyurl.com/2w3xbq
- Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) video on bomb blast: http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2007/06/13/lebanon-blast.html
- Reuters AlertNet on investigation commission: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N18393967.htm
- Maharat: http://www.maharatfoundation.org
- Samir Kassir blog: http://samirkassir.blogspot.com
(19 June 2007)

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