BEIRUT: Lebanese politicians condemned Friday the car bomb that killed former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah in Downtown Beirut and praised the Future Movement senior adviser as a moderate statesman.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri hinted that Hezbollah was behind the assassination of his senior aide, saying the killing was another message to the March 14 coalition.
“Those who assassinated Mohammad Shatah are the ones who assassinated Rafik Hariri; they are the ones who want to assassinate Lebanon,” Hariri said in a statement hours after a car bomb killed Shatah.
“The suspects, as far as we’re concerned, and even as far as others are concerned, are trying to avoid facing international justice [in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon]; they are the ones opening the window of evil and chaos to Lebanon and the Lebanese, and they are igniting regional fires,” he added.
Hariri also said the perpetrators would not stop until they had dragged the country into strife.
Describing Shatah as a friend, Hariri said the veteran diplomat’s journey was an inspiration.
A bomb exploded as Shatah’s car drove through Downtown Beirut for a scheduled meeting of the Hariri-led March 14 coalition.
Five other people were also killed and scores more wounded in the blast near Starco.
The March 14 group received condolences at the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque in Beirut Friday.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora demanded that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon probe former minister Shatah’s assassination.
“We demand and affirm the need to refer this crime to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” Siniora said, reading a statement drafted by the March 14 coalition at former PM Saad Hariri’s residence in Downtown Beirut.
Siniora hinted that the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon stood behind the assassination. Addressing the Lebanese, he said that Shatah was “killed this morning at the hands of the murderer you know.”
“The murderer is the same one, killing the Syrians and the Lebanese. The murderer is the same in Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon and all over Lebanon,” said a tearful Siniora. “The murderer is the same, with his Lebanese allies, in Deraa, Aleppo, Damascus and all over Syria.”
For its part, Hezbollah called the assassination of Shatah “heinous” and urged the Lebanese to be “rational.”
“Hezbollah believes this heinous crime comes within the framework of a series of crimes and bombings aimed at sabotaging the country,” the party said in a statement.
Separately, President Michel Sleiman denounced this “terrorist crime that claimed the life of former minister Mohammad Shatah, this moderate, pro-dialogue figure.”
“This cowardly act, regardless of what messages it carries or who it is directed at, will only boost the 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,” Sleiman said in a statement.
The president called a meeting of the Higher Defense Council for Saturday.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati voiced similar condemnation.
“We condemn this assassination, which targeted a respected, moderate political and academic figure who believed in dialogue, the language of reason and logic and the right to difference 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.
Mikati decided to cut short his holiday in London and a close source said he would return home Friday.
For his part, speaker Nabih Berri said the killing was aimed at preventing the restoration of the country and inflicting strife among its people.
“Once again terrorism has struck Lebanon and the future of Lebanon and not only the Future Movement through the assassination of Mohammad Shatah,” Berri said, adding that it also came at a time when efforts are intensifying to form a government.
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam said that the car bombing was aimed at inciting strife in the country, and described Shatah as “a role model who never hesitated to help others and work together toward reaching national interest.”
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel visited the bomb site and denounced the attack, offering condolences for Shatah’s death.
Former head of the Internal Security Forces Gen. Ashraf Rifi said the Lebanese would be defiant in their resilience. “We send a clear message: This criminality will not break our resilience, we will keep moving and achieving everything we have set together with the Lebanese people on a journey to retrieve this country from the mouth of the dragon.”
Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh stressed that the main target of the explosion was “civil peace in Lebanon” and it was necessary to exercise restraint to avoid full-blown strife.
Sidon MP Bahia Hariri also condemned the assassination of Shatah and said that “the one behind this heinous crime is the same one responsible for the assassination of [Rafik Hariri] and the rest of the martyrs.”
She added: “Today’s assassination is a bloody message targeting the vision and approach of Rafik Hariri represented by Saad Hariri.”
Head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea noted that the assassination of Shatah “cannot be dealt with as an individual crime” but a crime carried out by professionals, one of a series of assassinations targeting March 14 officials.
“Did Mohammad Shatah bother them [the perpetrators] that much? Is this how they fight takfiris, they who pretend to weep over the victims of takfiris?” he said.
Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel described Shatah as the symbol of moderation in the country, saying that “his targeting is the targeting of the essence of March 14.”
Head of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun also condemned the car bomb, and warned against making “random accusations” so as not to “pour oil over the fire.”
Meanwhile, Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, said Shatah’s assassination served as a serious message to all moderates. Jumblatt added that yet again “terrorism did not discriminate in its targets.”
For his part, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said that “with Shatah’s assassination, Lebanon has lost a face of moderation.”