BEIRUT: Politicians and organizations from across Lebanon’s sharply divided political spectrum denounced the assassination Friday of Information Branch leader Wissam al-Hasan in an explosion that ripped through a narrow street near Ashrafieh’s Sassine Square. The bomb that detonated in the East Beirut neighborhood shortly before 3 p.m. left at least five dead, including the security chief, and more than 60 people wounded.
While the attack came as a shock to many in the country, several March 14 officials said that the targeted security incident had not been a surprise given the insistence of the Syrian regime on carrying its unrest into Lebanon.
“This is a clear message to the Lebanese for their stance and their faith in the country and its future,” Beirut MP Michel Pharaon told The Daily Star upon his arrival at the site of the explosion in Ibrahim Monzer Street.
Dozens of Future Movement supporters took to the streets of Beirut’s central district Friday evening and erected tents in front of the Grand Serail. The protesters said they were launching an open-ended sit-in to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
The ISF’s Information Branch has repeatedly asked the government to provide it with full telecoms data to better investigate recent assassination threats against key politicians in Lebanon. The government claims to have already provided the ISF with the requested data, but March 14 and the ISF claim that key components of the data have been withheld.
Akkar MP Moeen Merhebi, who was in Beirut at the time of the explosion, said that the bombing had been an attempt to force Lebanon to enter the unrest in Syria, adding that he was not surprised at the terror attack but had in fact rather expected it.
“One should expect more from the Assad regime; we were expecting this, and we were expecting them to carry their killing machine into Lebanon,” Merhebi said.
Meanwhile, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun condemned the assassination in an interview with OTV television channel and called on the Lebanese to exercise caution and prudence in this critical period the country is going through.
“We strongly condemn this murder and may God bless those who became martyrs today. I call on all Lebanese to be prudent and wise at this stage,” Aoun said.
Aoun also said the assassination had been an attempt to target the stability of the country and the Lebanese.
“We prefer that our struggle remain with the external [enemies of Lebanon] for years instead of having hours of struggle between us in the country,” he said.
“I wish all the victims well and God bless the souls of those who fell as martyrs in Ashrafieh,” Aoun added.
Sidon MP Bahia Hariri mourned Hasan and said that the head of the Information Branch had become a martyr for Lebanon.
“Despite all the plots that were being prepared for him, he spent years working to uncover networks spying for Israel,” Hariri said in a statement.
She added that the assassination had targeted one of the main pillars of Lebanon’s stability and security.
For its part, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party said that the explosion in the heart of the capital had been an “ugly and destructive crime” that would have repercussions for the whole nation.
“This crime reminds us that the criminals’ goal is to create instability in Lebanon and more division among the people of this country,” the SSNP said in a statement Friday.
The party added that the entire region was on “the brink of collapse,” saying that it grieved for the innocent lives lost as a result of the explosion.
Chouf MP Marwan Hamadeh, who himself had been a victim of an assassination attempt eight years ago, called on the Lebanese to join the Syrian people to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“What is required today is to join the Syrian people to bring down this criminal regime that has committed crimes in Syria and Lebanon as soon as possible.
President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati need to stop the humiliating relations between Lebanon and Syria and expel the Syrian ambassador and the entire embassy staff,” Hamadeh said.
He added that a gathering similar to that held on March 14, 2005, was the only action that would halt the series of assassinations in Lebanon.
“The popular movement that took place on March 14 is the only way to confront the criminals of the Iranian-Syrian axis,” he added.