Assassination of former Lebanese minister condemned

Mohamad Shatah and five others killed by car bomb in central Beirut

The assassination yesterday of Lebanon’s former finance minister Mohamad Shatah was condemned by figures from the country’s entire political spectrum.

An adviser to opposition Future Party leader Saad Hariri, Mr Shatah was killed, along with five others, by a remotely detonated car bomb as his motorcade drove towards a coalition meeting in central Beirut. No claims of responsibility have been made.

More than 70 people were wounded in the powerful explosion in the Ottoman-era Serai where parked cars were set alight, trees shredded and windows shattered.

Mr Shatah, a relatively minor political figure, served as ambassador to the US and deputy central bank governor before being appointed finance minister. He was a sharp critic of the Syrian government and the Lebanese Shia Hizbullah movement that has deployed fighters alongside Syrian troops in the conflict.


The Sunni Future Movement has decried this involvement and called for Hizbullah to comply with Lebanon's policy of disassociation from the Syrian conflict, while itself providing political and material support to the rebels.

In a tweet registered shortly before his death, Mr Shatah needled Hizbullah for seeking “similar powers in security and foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon” from 1976 to 2005.

Yesterday’s bombing, seen as fallout of the 33-month Syrian conflict, is certain to undermine efforts to promote national unity and stoke the fires of sectarian tensions in a deeply divided Lebanon.

It also prompted finger- pointing. From exile, former premier Saad Hariri suggested Hizbullah was involved in the assassination: “As far as we are concerned the suspects . . . are those who are fleeing international justice and refusing to represent themselves before the international tribunal.”

This tribunal was established to try suspects in the 2005 murder of Mr Hariri's father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

The trial in absentia of five Hizbullah suspects is due to begin at The Hague on January 16th. The movement has denied involvement and refused to surrender the men.

Hizbullah said: “The heinous crime comes within the framework of crimes that aim to destroy Lebanon.” The movement called on the country’s “security and judicial agencies to . . . expose the perpetrators and bring them to justice”.

Hizbullah’s ally Damascus denied opposition accusations of involvement in the blast.

The most recent assassination of a stalwart from the Hariri camp took place in October 2012 when a car bomb killed Lebanon’s intelligence chief, Wissam al-Hassan.

Sectarian clashes
Since then there have been sectarian clashes in the port cities of Tripoli and Sidon as well as bombings that killed 52 in the Hizbullah stronghold of south Beirut and outside the Iranian embassy. The fatal shooting of Hizbullah military commander Hassan al-Lakkis on December 4th suggests the pace of these attacks is accelerating.

All-out civil conflict in Lebanon could force Hizbullah to withdraw its forces from Syria as Damascus’s campaign against insurgents is gaining momentum.

The pro-US Future Movement is strongly supported by Sunni Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Shia Iran’s regional rivals, which have provided finance and arms for insurgents seeking the overthrow of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times