Robert Fisk: Syria denies killing General in car-bomb attack

Published: 13 December 2007


So, they assassinated another one yesterday. A general, Francois El-Hajj by name, not known in Europe but a senior officer and the chief of the Lebanese general army staff, whose battle for the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camps earlier this year made him an obvious target for the Syrians, for the Iranians, for the Palestinians, for just about anyone else you care to note.

Although he was an obvious target, the implications for the current army chief and possible future president – General Michel Suleiman – were devastating.

General El-Hajj was blown to pieces with three of his colleagues at about seven o’clock in the morning as he moved through Baabda, a Christian and supposedly safe suburb of Beirut. He was looked after by his own bodyguards and he was lost by them.

There was no way in which he was going to be saved from the blast. His vehicle was passing a car packed with 35 kilos of TNT when the parked car exploded. The force of the blast, in front of the Baabda municipality buildings, threw the bodies 15 yards and shook the diplomatic quarter. The General, his driver and one bodyguard were confirmed dead. A fourth man is believed to have been killed in the explosion and seven were wounded.

The Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi blamed the Syrians for the assassination although, interestingly, and with great concern for his use of words, Walid Jumblatt, who has constantly blamed the Syrians for attacks on democratic politicians in Lebanon did not do so. Nor did Marwan Hamadi, one of Mr Jumblatt’s parliamentary colleagues.

It seems, therefore, that Lebanese politics are changing once again and that those who were enemies of the Syrians are no longer necessarily so.

But Lebanon’s appalling pseudo-civil war nonetheless continues. The last assassination was the anti-Syrian member of parliament Antoine Ghamem, murdered in his car on a Beirut street in a Christian area not far from Baabda. Almost every other week we are faced with an assassination. And, much worse, we are supposed to expect it.

When I had dinner with Mr Jumblatt, I made the point that what was terrible about the assassinations was we are beginning to expect them, they are part of our daily life. Every day we are expected to endure an assassination or an attempted assassination, and what is it meant to mean? Syria denied involvement in yesterday’s bombing, accusing “Israel and its Lebanese instruments” in a statement from Damascus, of benefiting from the atrocity.

But if this was a warning from Syria, and if General El-Hajj was meant to die – which he did – what is the message for General Suleiman and for all Lebanese?


2 Responses

  1. Fatah al-Islam was until recently (maybe still is) funded by the Americans and Saudis – the Syrians tried to close them down. Who is it most likely they’re are working for: their sponsors or their enemies?

  2. From my reading of the situation, Fatah Al-Islam (FAI) were at least funded by the hariri group as one branch of a sunni militia counter weight to the shia Hezbollah. I imagine that the US and the saudis are funding such groups too, probably including FAI. Franklin Lamb writes a lot of good articles on the US involvement in funding the “welch club” militias.

    I don’t think they are still funding fatah al-islam however as they were battling the main saudi/states ally in Lebanon, the Government. I also read that the reason for the conflict might be that FAI had their funding cut, so they decided to rob the bank etc. Although another narritive is that the US has plans for an airbase there and wanted the area cleansed of enemies.

    I also don’t think this attack was fatah al islam, it was to sophisticated. Its more likely Hajj was killed because he was likely to become the new military commander and he is a supporter of Auon who is in turn allied with Hezbollah.

    I’ve heard arguments that it was the rival Christian groups allied to the March 14th movement. It was most likely the Government that did it. Who are openly funded by the States.

    I should probably say, I’ve been snowed under with work, so I’ve not done a great deal of reading on this latest event.

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