Fear confines Lebanese legislators to their homes


Beirut : “The interview will be in my new office, which is my home,” said a high-ranking minister in the Western-backed government of Fouad Seniora.

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Most members of Lebanon’s ruling coalition have gone into strict hiding for fear of meeting the same fate as an anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanem, who was killed in a car bomb explosion Wednesday just days before a crucial presidential poll is scheduled to take place.

“We were instructed to take extra precautions, so for this reason I will be confined to my home until the presidential elections,” said Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, who survived an assassination attempt in October 2004, the first in a string of attacks against key anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon.

Security has been intensified at the entrance of Hamadeh’s building, and journalists and anyone else entering the building are politely asked by security men to sign their names and then have their belongings searched.

“Sorry to bother you, have a nice day,” said a Lebanese security officer at the elevator of Hamadeh’s building.

Hamadeh, a close ally of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, greets his guests at the door of his home, by saying: “Welcome to my office, home and social gathering.”

According to unconfirmed reports, a wing of the high-security luxury Phoenicia Hotel on the Beirut seafront has been reserved for about 40 legislators who began moving in after Wednesday’s assassination of Ghanem.

Several lawmakers from the ruling coalition blamed the attack, which killed Ghanem and six other people, on Lebanon’s Arab neighbour Syria.

They said Syria wants to reduce the slim majority they hold ahead of Tuesday’s presidential vote.

Parliament is due to choose a successor to the Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud before his mandate runs out in November, but rival parties have failed so far to reach a consensus on the issue.

“Most of the anti-Syrian majority have been living outside Lebanon since June when MP Walid Eido was assassinated in a car bomb blast but whenever they arrive in Lebanon two days later they are being killed,” Hamadeh said.

“Security is still breached by our neighbours, who were controlling Lebanon for the past 30 years,” Elias Attalah an anti-Syrian MP said, referring to the Syrians.

Syria, which was widely blamed for the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, was forced to end its 30-year military and political influence in April 26, 2005 under international and local pressures.

“The Syrians want to punish the anti-Syrian camp and they will not stop their crimes against our MPs,” Attalah said.

Ghanem was the eighth member of the anti-Syrian majority to be blown up or shot dead since 2005. “We have no social life any more. We are all confined to our homes,” he said.

“Most cabinet ministers, to avoid getting killed along with premier Fouad Seniora, now reside at the prime minister’s compound in downtown Beirut which is heavily guarded,” Hamadeh said.

Ghanem was killed just three days after his return from Dubai. His colleague in the parliamentary majority, Jubran Tueni, was killed in December 2005 just a day after returning from Paris.

“The killers are professional and have agents in key places like the airport and they know very well the weakness inside our security departments,” Attalah said.

But the anti-Syrian MPs seem to benefit from their hideouts and are working on writing books or diaries. “If God allows to stay alive, we will be able to publish them,” Hamadeh said.