Thousands of Lebanese gathered in Beirut’s Martyrs Square yesterday to vent their anger against the Syrian regime as they laid to rest a top security official killed in a car bombing blamed on Damascus.
In a show of defiance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a banner proclaimed “Two states, one revolution,” in an allusion to the 19-month rebellion in Syria that has cost more than 34,000 lives.
“Bashar out of the Serail,” proclaimed another, referring to the seat of government in Beirut.
After a solemn military farewell at the headquarters of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), the body of its intelligence chief, General Wissam al-Hassan, was transported to Martyrs Square along with that of his chauffeur.
They and a third person were killed and 126 people wounded when the powerful bomb exploded on Friday in the upmarket, mostly Christian district of Ashrafieh that was home to the 47-year-old general, a Sunni Muslim.
After funeral services at the massive Al-Amine Mosque, Hassan was to be buried in the mausoleum 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.
“We are going to bid farewell to Wissam al-Hassan, but we want to continue what we embarked on in 2005,” said Ahmad Fatfat, an MP in the bloc of Hariri’s son Saad, himself a former premier and leader of the anti-Assad opposition.
“The Syrians left Lebanon then, and we want to prevent them for good from returning; we also want the Iranians out,” he said, in a reference to Assad’s chief regional ally.
He also accused the government and the Shiite movement Hezbollah, which dominates it, of wanting to “bring Bashar al-Assad back to Lebanon.”
Martyrs Square was dotted with huge billboards of a saluting Hassan and the slogan “a martyr for truth and justice.”
Many people carried the flags variously of Lebanon, the Future movement, part of the March 14 anti-Assad coalition, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party. Others waved the Syrian revolutionary flag.
Tamam Ali, a 27-year-old Future activist, said: “It’s not just today. We were here yesterday and we’ll be here tomorrow and in the future.”
“First of all, we want the fall of this government. We want the Syrian embassy kicked out and we want an end to Hezbollah’s power of arms,” he said.
Abu Jawdeh, a 42-year-old surgeon carrying the flag of the Christian party, the Lebanese Forces, used a powerful surgical metaphor regarding Hezbollah, an ally both of the Syrian and Iranian governments.
“You can’t expect Hezbollah to give up easily or hand over its weapons peacefully. But clearly, Lebanon is going into a phase similar to open-heart surgery. In order to fix the heart, you need to break the ribs,” he said.
Hezbollah’s militia never disarmed after the devastating 1975-1990 civil war and is the most powerful armed force in Lebanon.
Despite calls for him to step down, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said he had agreed to stay in his post at the request of Lebanese President Michel Sleiman to avoid a “political vacuum” in volatile Lebanon.