BEIRUT: Leaders, officials and envoys in Lebanon hailed Friday former minister Mohammad Shatah, who was assassinated in a car bomb blast earlier in the day, describing him as a moderate and a patriot.
Describing the explosion as a “terrorist crime,” President Michel Sleiman said Lebanon had lost a “moderate, pro-dialogue figure.”
“This cowardly act, regardless of what the messages carry ... will only boost Lebanese determination to foster peace, stability and dialogue in the face of terrorists who resort to killings, bombings and sabotage as a means to prove their presence,” the president said in a statement.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who cut short his holiday in London, also denounced the attack.
“We condemn this assassination, which targeted a respected, moderate political [figure] and academic who believed in dialogue, the language of reason and logic and the right to differences of opinion,” Mikati said in a statement.
“We also condemn all acts of violence and murder that lead to nothing but more tragedies, devastation and damage to the homeland,” he added. “It’s time to put an end to all the grief afflicting our nation,” Mikati said.
Shatah, 62, who hailed from the northern city of Tripoli, was a former finance minister and senior adviser to Future Movement leader Saad Hariri.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, denouncing the killing, said Shatah’s assassination was “aimed at transforming Lebanon into an arena for settling scores and stirring sectarian strife.”
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam described the attack as a “terrorist act” and that it should confronted with “total national unity.”
Shatah was killed in a car bomb blast in Downtown Beirut as the former minister drove to Hariri’s Downtown residence. Five other people were killed and scores more were wounded in the explosion near the Starco building.
Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai described Shatah as “a face illuminated with moderation and understanding.”
In a tweet, British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher said Shatah “was a wise, tolerant, smart patriot. His courage not that he knew risks but that he believed Lebanon worth taking them for.”
Former Information Minister Tarek Mitri, now the U.N. secretary-general's special representative to Libya, said Lebanon had lost a “patriot and we, his friends and beloved, have lost a dear [person].”
“Mohammad Shatah was a man of reason ... he called for peace among the Lebanese and was against violence and [acts of] intimidation,” Mitri said in a statement.
Sidon MP Bahia Hariri said the former minister’s killing was a “bloody message targeting [her brother] Rafik Hariri’s path.”
Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2005, in Downtown Beirut. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon will begin in January the trials of four Hezbollah suspects in the case.
Shatah was headed to Saad Hariri’s Downtown residence where a March 14 meeting was under way.
The meeting, which was postponed in the wake of the bombing, was rescheduled for midday. U.S. and French ambassadors attended the meeting.
While calling for unity among the Lebanese, French Ambassador Patrice Paoli said Shatah’s killing was a “very sad message for Lebanon and the Lebanese people.”