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March 8 dubious on Geagea shooting bid

Samir Geagea, leader of Christian Lebanese Forces party, speaking during a press conference in the northern city of Arbil following his visit to Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region. (AFP PHOTO/SAFIN HAMED)

BEIRUT: The Hezbollah-led March 8 parties’ reaction to an assassination attempt that targeted Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea was largely muted or outright skeptical Thursday.

Hezbollah and its Christian ally, MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, kept mum on the incident that has jolted the political landscape, heightening fears of a new wave of political assassinations that targeted mainly March 14 politicians following the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Geagea said Wednesday he had escaped an assassination attempt when a sniper fired at his residence in Maarab in Kesrouan, warning that the political assassinations of the last decade had not ended. Geagea said the attempt involved a high level of expertise, claiming the shots had been fired at least 1 kilometer from the target site.

He said he was convinced that “those behind this operation wanted it to be a definitive message,” without specifically accusing anyone.

Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading figure in the March 8 bloc, spoke with Geagea by telephone Thursday to congratulate him on escaping the attempt on his life.

But Baalbek-Hermel MP Nawar Saheli, from Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, declined to comment on the incident. Asked whether Geagea’s hint that a political party might have been involved in the attempt was a reference to Hezbollah, Saheli told The Daily Star: “No comment.”

A group of pro-Syrian parties, in which both Amal and Hezbollah are members, issued a statement in which they said Geagea was searching for public support in the run-up to next year’s scheduled round of parliamentary polls.

The parties added that Geagea was experiencing growing political isolation, because of the return of the Maronite patriarchate to “its unifying, patriotic role,” a reference to the recent chilliness in relations between the Lebanese Forces leader and Bkirki.

Geagea has taken issue with statements by Patriarch Beshara Rai on the crisis in Syria, for being insufficiently tough on the regime in Damascus.

Zahrani MP Michel Musa, a member of Berri’s parliamentary Development and Liberation bloc, condemned the attempt on Geagea’s life. In an interview with the Voice of Lebanon radio station, Musa stressed “the need for speeding up investigations [into the incident] and punishing those behind the attempt.”

He expressed his belief that no one had the intention of creating tensions in the country or seeing a deterioration in the security situation.

Aoun, an arch political foe of Geagea, has not yet commented on the assassination attempt against the Lebanese Forces leader.

But Jbeil MP Abbas Hashem, a member of Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, scoffed at Geagea’s claim that someone wanted to kill him.

“Only Geagea and his comrades experienced this assassination attempt which, if it is true, does not amount to an attempt to frighten him,” Hashem told Elnashra website.

He accused Geagea of using the incident to regain his role in Christian areas following recent criticism of him by the Maronite patriarch.

Responding to Geagea’s fears of a return to a period of political assassination, Hashem said: “When political attempts become useless, the issue of ‘security’ arises. But what happened with Geagea does not fall into this category. [The incident] was not a security breach, or even an attempt to frighten him.”

Former Minister Mario Aoun, an FPM official, said his party’s failure to condemn the attempt on Geagea’s life should not be overplayed. He told local television station MTV that the FPM was waiting to learn the truth of what happened.

“I am against targeting any political figure, irrespective of his tendencies, and I’m against any violent reactions,” Aoun said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 06, 2012, on page 3.

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