Sun, May 08, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Bomb attack `won't cow' Lebanon's unity: minister

SECURITY APPARATUS A bomb attack in the mainly Christian neighborhood of Jounieh has led to some finger-pointing as to who might have been responsible


The interior minister said yesterday that Lebanese demanding national unity in recent weeks will not be cowed by the overnight bombing in a Christian city that first reports said killed one person and wounded two dozen others. An opposition leader blamed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud for the explosion.

Lebanese police said yesterday that nobody had been killed in the bomb blast the previous evening, contrary to reports from the scene.

"Twenty-two people were wounded in the attack in Jounieh and five of them are still hospitalized," a police officer told reporters, citing what he said was a final casualty toll.

"No one was killed in the explosion, contrary to the early reports that emerged after the attack," said the officer, who declined to be named.

Civil defense and medical sources had spoken of two dead, one of them a Sri Lankan woman.

The 25kg bomb destroyed the headquarters of religious radio station Sawt al-Mahaba and severely damaged the adjacent Mar Yuhanna Church in the town's souk.

Lahoud has condemned Friday night's attack that ravaged a shopping area next to a church and a Christian religious radio station north of Beirut and linked it to political developments expected yesterday.

He was apparently referring to the return of Lebanon's most prominent anti-Syrian politician, Michel Aoun, from 14 years' exile in France and Parliament's discussion of a divisive election law.

Lawmakers convened to hear a message from Lahoud read by the Parliament's speaker urging them to craft an election law acceptable to all factions after deep political divisions over the demarcation of electoral districts. Parliamentary elections are supposed to start May 29 and be held over four consecutive Sundays.

Speaking to reporters outside the legislature, opposition leader Walid Jumblatt launched a scathing attack against the Lebanese president, accusing him of presiding over security agencies he blamed for the latest bombing.

"The head of the security apparatus cannot stay. There needs to be a complete reform," Jumblatt said.

The Druse political leader also said he had warned Christian opposition partners to force Lahoud, a Christian, to resign, but his call had been previously rejected.

"He [Lahoud] stayed and now he is playing with us by outbidding on sectarian issues and by bombs," Jumblatt alleged.

Interior Minister Hassan Sabei, who inspected the explosion scene, denounced the bombing in comments to reporters early yesterday.

"I say to those criminals that they will not stop the Lebanese people from forging ahead with the journey that they started on March 14," he said, referring to a huge anti-Syrian demonstration that called for end to 29 years of Syrian dominance.

Syrian military and intelligence forces, long dominant in Lebanon, completed their withdrawal from this country on April 26 under intense UN and US pressure, which intensified following the Feb. 14 assassination for former premier Rafik Hariri.

Opposition legislator Ghassan Moukheiber alleged joint Lebanese-Syrian security agencies were still operating here despite the withdrawal of Syrian soldiers and the removal of pro-Syrian Lebanese security chiefs.

Sabei, the interior minister, said he could not level accusations until the investigation finished but added: "there is no doubt that something has to be done for the [security] apparatus to be purged from the remains of what was happening before."

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