Prominent anti-Syrian Christian politician Pierre Gemayel was assassinated in a suburb of Beirut yesterday, his party's radio station and Lebanon's official news agency reported.
His fatal shooting will certainly heighten the political tension in Lebanon, where the leading Muslim Shiite party Hezbollah has threatened to topple the government if it does not get a bigger say in Cabinet decisionmaking.
Witnesses said Gemayel was shot in his car in Jdeideh, a Christian neighborhood, his constituency on the northern edge of Beirut. The witnesses said a car rammed his car from behind and then an assassin stepped out and shot him at point blank range.
Gemayel was rushed to a nearby hospital seriously wounded, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp and Voice of Lebanon, the Phalange Party's radio station, reported.
The party radio station later said he was dead, as did the National News Agency.
Gemayel, the minister of industry and son of former president Amin Gemayel, was a member of the Phalange party and supporter of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, which is locked in a power struggle with pro-Syrian factions led by Hezbollah.
Gemayel is the third prominent figure in Lebanese politics to be assassinated in the past two years. Former prime minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing in February last year and lawmaker and newspaper manager Gibran Tueni was killed in a car bombing in December.
Saad Hariri, leader of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, broke off a televised news conference after hearing that Gemayel had been shot.
In an interview with CNN later, Hariri hailed Gemayel as "a friend, a brother to all of us," and appeared to break down after saying: "We will bring justice to all those who killed him."
Gemayel was first elected to parliament last year and was believed to be the youngest legislator in the legislature, where anti-Syrian groups dominate. He hailed from a prominent family of politicians. His father, Amin, served as president between 1982 and 1988 and his grandfather, the late Pierre Gemayel, led the right-wing Christian Phalange Party that fielded the largest Christian militia during the 1975-1990 civil war between Christians and Muslims.