Beirut bomb toll rises, as Hezbollah, Syria blamed

BLAME GAME::Lebanese officials and Syrian opposition members say Damascus and the militant group ordered the attack, which targeted a staunch opponent of theirs

Agencies, Beirut

Sun, Dec 29, 2013 - Page 6

Lebanon’s state news agency yesterday said that a 19-year-old wounded in Friday’s car bombing attack on a former Lebanese minister in Beirut has died, raising the death toll to seven.

The National News Agency said Mohammed Shaar died yesterday from massive wounds sustained in the blast, which targeted and killed Mohammed Chatah, a known opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah.

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri has accused the Shiite militant group of involvement in the assassination of Chatah, his 62-year-old political adviser.

“As far as we are concerned the suspects ... are those who are fleeing international justice and refusing to represent themselves before the international tribunal,” al-Hariri said, referring to the upcoming trial in The Hague of five Hezbollah members suspected of killing his father, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in 2005.

Hezbollah in a statement condemned the blast as “part of a series of crimes and explosions aimed at destabilizing the country.”

“This is a terrible loss for Lebanon, the Lebanese people and for the United States,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack and the UN Security Council expressed its “unequivocal condemnation of any attempt to destabilize Lebanon through political assassinations.”

A key member of the Syrian opposition has also accused Damascus and allies Iran and Hezbollah of being behind the attack.

“The murderers... are the same ones that kill and continue to kill Syrians in Qusayr, Qalamoun, Ghouta, Aleppo, Homs and Idlib,” said the Syrian National Council, the largest member of the umbrella National Coalition opposition group.

“They are undoubtedly the alliance between the Iranian and Syrian regimes and their agents in Lebanon led by the sectarian and fanatical militia Hezbollah,” the council said in a statement issued overnight.

Hezbollah has sent troops to back the al-Assad regime in its war with rebels fighting to oust him.

A message on Chatah’s Twitter account less than an hour before the blast accused Hezbollah of trying to take control of the country, which was occupied by Syrian forces until after the 2005 assassination.

“Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security and foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 years,” the tweet read.

Lebanon’s opposition March 14 Alliance also implied Damascus and Hezbollah were to blame, saying “the criminal is the same, he who is thirsty for the blood of Syrians... he and his Lebanese allies.”