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Kaslik 23 March 2005  

Opposition blames Syria for deadly blast    by: Daily Star.

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s opposition accused pro-Syrian Lebanese security agents of Wednesday’s bomb blast in a Christian quarter north of Beirut which killed three and wounded five others.
The huge bomb, the second targeting a Christian area in less than a week in the run up to Easter, threatens to envelope Lebanon in an atmosphere of fear and chaos just weeks before nationwide elections are scheduled to take place.
The country’s political opposition believes the bomb attacks are being carried out by pro-Syrian groups who are determined to create havoc in order to prove a need for a Syrian Army presence in Lebanon.

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In a statement, the opposition Qornet Shehwan gathering said: “It has become clear to everyone that the security regime and its collaborators are responsible for terrorizing the people that united behind the demands of the opposition.”
Leading opposition MP Walid Jumblatt said the security services were guilty of organizing a “theater of blood” and reiterated his demand that the top security chiefs resign.
Opposition member Simon Karam added: “The Lebanese- Syrian security network is targeting Christian regions in order to provoke Islamic-Christian tension,which will not happen.”
French President Jacques Chirac, one of Syria’s most vocal international critics, said he was “beside himself with anger” at the bombing.
Chirac said: “I hope that those who are banking on stirring strife in Lebanon and are trying to show that anarchy and bombings would return to Lebanon without Syrian intervention, I hope those who are playing this trivial game can be swiftly exposed and brought to justice.”
The blast occurred in the Kesrouan area of Kaslik a few miles outside the capital and comes hard on the heels of a similar blast just five days earlier in New Jdeideh which wounded 11 people.
The three victims of the blast are all believed to be Sri Lankan nationals who had recently arrived in Lebanon in search of work and a better life.
The 30-kilogram bomb, planted in a suitcase under the stairway entrance to the Alta Vista center, exploded at 1:30 a.m. and devastated shops,boutiques and nightclubs, as well as dozens of parked cars.
Red Cross and Civil Defense personnel searched by hand through the debris for victims as police dogs sniffed the rubble for other explosive charges that could have been planted at the site.
Rumors of booby-trapped cars have been spreading rapidly and a number of false alarms were reported in Mansourieh, Achrafieh, Jamhour and Kaslik, where the Universite Saint Esprit received a call that a bomb might explode at any moment.
All students and staff members were evacuated, but the alarm proved to be false.
Hizbullah condemned the bombing and urged Lebanese people to be cautious. The group also called on the authorities to take all measures that would secure people’s safety and reassure them.
President Emile Lahoud said the attack was aimed at pushing Lebanon into “chaos and fear” and reiterated his earlier call for dialogue between opposition and loyalist politicians “as the only means to break the political stalemate and bridge all differences on controversial issues.”
Lebanon’s opposition has steadfastly refused to enter a dialogue with loyalist politicians until its demands,which include the resignation of the country’s security chiefs, an independent investigation into former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s murder and a full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon are met.
The opposition also called for those directly harmed by the blasts to file personal lawsuits against the interior and defense ministers for “failing to protect the security of the Lebanese.”
Outgoing Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh said he was willing to assume full responsibility for the blast, but insisted his “conscience is clear” and that he was not afraid of any lawsuits.
He urged Qornet Shehwan members, who he said were “full of hatred and had found in Hariri’s assassination a means to settle accounts, to overcome their hatred or at least postpone it because of the current delicate situation.”
In Bkirki,Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir said the bombings were proof of “weakness not of strength.”
He added: “There are always people who do not want any good for Lebanon, and they want to create problems.” Kesrouan MP Farid Khazen said the Kaslik attack was a response by the commanders of Lebanon’s major security branches to the opposition demand that they all be fired for failing to prevent Hariri’s assassination last month. Kesrouan MP Neamatallah Abi Nasr added: “Such attacks will escalate correspondingly with the progress of the process of Lebanon’s restoration of sovereignty and independence.”


BEIRUT: The bustling and picturesque area of Kaslik had escaped unscathed from 15 years of civil war but in the early hours of Wednesday morning a large bomb tore through a shopping arcade, killing three Indian workers sleeping inside and causing extensive damage to the surrounding area.
The bomb, which official sources said was about 30 kilograms while other reports indicated it was between 80 and 100 kilograms, detonated at around 1:30 a.m. in the Alta Vista shopping center in downtown Kaslik.
Security officials think the bomb may have been planted under one of the centers’ escalators.
For many Lebanese, Kaslik was the main recreational area immediately after the end of the civil war, when much of Beirut was still in ruins.
The area’s nightlife and commercial activity grew even bigger following the February14 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, as security fears increasingly drew clubbers and shoppers away from Downtown Beirut and often out of the capital.
Christian opposition politicians said the attacks aimed to reopen sectarian wounds left by the 1975-90 civil war. “Syria, forced by the international community to get out of Lebanon, thinks that with the help of its Lebanese collaborators it can snuff out the uprising for independence that has been ignited by the murder of Rafik Hariri,” said opposition MP Fares Soueid.
Devastated shop owners picked through the rubble. Others salvaged personal belongings from cars wrecked by the blast. Security forces went from boutique to boutique assessing the damage in Kaslik, a town of expensive shops, fashionable restaurants and trendy nightclubs.
Fortunately the Buddha Bar nightclub inside the multi-storey center was closed Tuesday night. The death toll could have been much higher had the attack happened on a busy weekend night. Holding back her tears, Shadia Sfeir, an elderly saleswoman, accused Syrian intelligence agents of wanting to “prevent us from demonstrating for the recovery of our sovereignty.
But they are wrong.” Georges, a man in his 50s, said the Syrians were humiliated and unhappy about leaving Lebanon and were taking revenge by sowing insecurity.
“We are afraid this is going to keep happening.The country is out of control. No one knows who comes and who goes in Lebanon,” said George Aql, who was helping his son sweep shattered glass outside his hairdressing salon. One observer, Simon Shihan, noted that the attack in Kaslik came just before Easter Sunday while the one in Jdeideh occurred in the run up to Palm Sunday.
The previous blast occurred in a less affluent neighborhood on Saturday wounding 11 people. The attacks have so far occurred at night, apparently intended to frighten more than kill.
“As long as it is only broken glass it is alright,” said Mano Kechebachian, picking up knee-high boots and handbags, strewn among the shattered glass covering his shop floor.
“As scared as people are, we have to have faith in Lebanon.” Following the blast on Wednesday, Jounieh Mayor Juan Hobeich assured the area’s citizens that the municipal police will be insuring the people’s protection 18 hours a day.
The Kesrouan-Ftouh Qaimaqam Raymond Hitti said that security and military patrols will be increased in the area and urged the citizens to dial the Internal Security Forces’ hotline – 112 – in the event that they need to report any suspicious objects.
Taking a different line, Jamal Nehme, a former director general of Surete Generale who was seated at a cafe near the blast site, told reporters that: “The people’s court is always the most dangerous.
Public opinion is unfair. The Syrians are our neighbors and we must not let them leave humiliated.”

BEIRUT: The Kaslik blast early Wednesday morning sparked a wave of reactions from both Lebanese loyalist and opposition officials with opposition MPs accusing the security services of being behind the spate of recent explosions that have spread panic throughout the country.
“The Lebanese-Syrian security network is targeting Christian regions to provoke Islamic-Christian tension, which will not happen,” said Simon Karam, a former diplomat and a member of the Christian opposition.
“These services are trying to divide the opposition.” Kesrouan MP Mansour Bone indicated that such services were “targeting the security of the Christians in order to create confessional troubles.”
Beirut MP Walid Eido said: “The Lebanese people are united and nothing will shake that. We say to the security services and those behind them that we demand our freedom, sovereignty and their departure.”
Jbeil MP Abbas Hashem described the incident as a “despicable act,” stressing that it aimed at shaking the economy of the country and intimidating the people rather than threatening civil peace.
“The remnants of the authority, which are responsible for security, are to be held accountable for such acts,” Hashem said, calling for early parliamentary elections to facilitate the peaceful transfer of power.
Replying to President Emile Lahoud’s statement that security is under control in the country, Jbeil MP Nazem Khoury urged the president to deal with the nation’s security “with seriousness and responsibility” and not at the expenses of the country’s freedom and sovereignty.
The MP asked if the terms of dialogue in Lebanon are the current explosions Khoury said no internal party has anything to gain from the current spate of incidents. “There is more than one regional party who might take advantage of the unrest in Lebanon,” he added.
Metn MP Pierre Gemayel described the recent violence as “a desperate attempt to stop the wheel of change and turn the eyes away from the important challenges the Lebanon is witnessing.”
Gemayel said the Kaslik and the New Jdeideh blasts aimed at targeting stability and stirring strife.
He stressed that the Lebanese are aware of such a scheme and are intent to continue on their path to achieving national unity.
In a statement released following an emergency meeting, the Phalange Party’s Reformist Movement blamed the explosion on the secret services.
It urged the Lebanese people to exercise extreme caution because of what it described as “such critical and decisive circumstances.”
The movement accused the security services of generating instability in the hope of postponing the parliamentary elections to enable the creation of a biased government and hamper the process of the Lebanese toward unity and freedom.
“Once again, the ball is in the authority’s hand,” the movement said, demanding it identify and prosecute the perpetrators. Meanwhile, Outgoing Telecommunications Minister Jean- Louis Qordahi strongly condemned the crime and called for a swift investigation.
In a telephone call to Jounieh Mayor Juan Hobeish, Qordahi said the ministry was ready to repair any damages caused to the telephone network.
The ministry entrusted a technical team to scan the area for speedy repairs. The Tripoli Gathering urged Lahoud and outgoing Interior and Municipalities Minister Suleiman Franjieh to deploy the Lebanese Army in Tripoli following an attack on the city’s Caritas welfare association center.
The Caritas welfare association center is a former Syrian intelligence bureau.
In the wake of the rearming of many of Tripoli’s militia members, most of whom participated in the 25-year civil war, tensions are running high in the area. The Gathering members, MPs Mohammed Kabbara, Maurice Fadel and Mohammed Safadi, said they would hold the government responsible in the event of any further incidents. Outgoing Minister of State Albert Mansour said that the government is responsible for the security of citizens, whereas the political escalation and media instigations are the responsibility of the citizens themselves.
Mansour stressed that the security problem did not create the political crisis but rather ignited it,blaming the incident on those fomenting the present political atmosphere.
“Every one should contribute to calming the situation,” he said.

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