Call for anti-Syria demo at Lebanon police chief’s funeral
Lebanese opposition supporters were expected to turn out in the thousands on Sunday for an anti-Syria demonstration at the funeral of a top security official killed in a car bombing blamed on the Damascus regime.
General Wissam al-Hassan of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), a prominent figure opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, died when a powerful bomb exploded in an upmarket Beirut suburb on Friday, sparking angry calls for Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his government to quit.
The slain police intelligence chief is to be buried in the late afternoon in Beirut alongside the grave of his mentor, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, whose 2005 assassination sparked an outcry that forced Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon after three decades of occupation.
Mikata said after an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday that he had agreed to stay in his post at the request of President Michel Sleiman to avoid a “political vacuum” in volatile Lebanon.
Saad Hariri, the son of Rafiq and leader of the March 14 anti-Damascus opposition, on Saturday called for mass attendance at the funeral for Hassan, who had pointed the finger of blame at the Syrian regime over his father’s killing.
“Each of you is personally called on to attend [the funeral] of Wissam al-Hassan, who protected Lebanon from the plot of Bashar al-Assad and Ali Mamlouk [head of Syrian intelligence],” said the former premier.
Prime Minister Mikati on Saturday linked the murder to the recent arrest of former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha, who is suspected of planning attacks to provoke sectarian strife in Lebanon at the behest of Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk.
“After the discovery of explosives, logic dictates that the two cases are related,” he said, without, however, mentioning Syria by name.
Saturday was observed as a day of mourning for Hassan, who was killed in Ashrafieh, an upmarket mainly Christian area of Beirut.
Government sources say the blast killed at least eight people, and wounded 126, but the Red Cross said the final death toll could be revised downwards.
Internal Security Forces chief General Ashraf Rifi said the bomb “consisted of between 60 and 70 kilos of TNT”.
Under Hassan’s direction, the ISF played a central role in the August arrest of Samaha at his home, where police found explosives which investigators allege were to be used against religious and political figures suspected of backing the Syrian opposition.
The police intelligence chief had already blamed Damascus for the murder of Rafiq Hariri and a series of killings of Lebanese figures opposed to Syria in the three years that followed.
No one has ever been tried for Hariri’s murder but a UN-backed tribunal indicted four members of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, which now dominates the Lebanese government and is allied to Damascus.
Hezbollah called Friday’s attack “an attempt to destabilise Lebanon and national unity”. Syria condemned what it called a “terrorist, cowardly” attack.
Hassan’s wife and children flew back to Beirut on Saturday from Paris, where he had taken them for safety. His wife Anna was in tears as she arrived at Beirut airport with sons Mazen, 17, and Majed, 12.
A ceremony will be held to “honour and mourn” the slain security chief at the Directorate General of the ISF, after which his body will be transferred to the Al-Amine mosque that dominates the skyline of central Beirut for the funeral expected to start at 4pm there.
In the Lebanese city of Tripoli, firefights erupted overnight on Friday after the office of pro-Hezbollah Sunni party Tawhid was attacked and a Sunni sheikh and party member was killed in crossfire, a security official said.
There have been repeated incidents in which the Syrian conflict has spilled over into its neighbour, and the bombing has sparked fears that Lebanon would be sucked further into a conflict that has cost more than 34,000 lives.