UNITED NATIONS, (AP) -The brazen daytime assassination of Lebanon’s industry minister should be added to the list of killings prosecuted by a tribunal of international and Lebanese judges just approved by the U.N. Security Council, the United States said.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the fatal shooting of Christian politician Pierre Gemayel Tuesday raised the possibility of Syrian involvement. Many in Lebanon have accused Damascus in previous assassinations, including the 2005 bomb blast that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, claims Syria has denied.
Gemayel, 34, was ambushed as he was leaving church in Beirut on Tuesday, the same day the U.N. Security Council approved the tribunal to prosecute the suspected killers of Hariri and 14 others.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere called Gemayel’s assassination “an attempt to destabilize Lebanon” and warned: “There will be no peace without justice in Lebanon.”
Syria and Iran both condemned the killing, and Syria’s Information Minister Mohsen Bilal denied Syria had any role.
Gemayel’s killing came hours before a deadline for council members to approve a letter authorizing Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish the tribunal, to examine Hariri’s slaying and other killings, with the cooperation of the Lebanese government.
The agreement by the U.N. and the Lebanese government, announced last week by Annan, would create a tribunal outside Lebanon with a majority of international judges and an international prosecutor. Annan said having more international than Lebanese judges would help ensure the tribunal’s independence.
With the Security Council’s approval, it now will be up to the Lebanese government to make the final decision on establishing the tribunal.
Anti-Syrian Prime Minister Fuad Saniora’s government is under intense pressure from the militant Hezbollah group, which has close ties to Syria and Iran, to grant the group more power or face street protests. Saniora’s Council of Ministers approved the tribunal plan on Nov. 13 but pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud has challenged the ministers’ decision.
At the same time the council approved the tribunal, it adopted a statement drafted by France condemning Gemayel’s killing and calling him “a symbol of freedom and of the political independence of Lebanon.”
Bolton said that the dual actions by the Security Council of approving the tribunal and condemning Gemayel’s assassination sent “an important signal … in support of the democratic forces in Lebanon.”
Both Russia and Qatar — the only Arab member of the Security Council — had raised questions about the constitutionality of the agreement to establish the tribunal because of the differences between the prime minister and president. But the council agreed Monday that any constitutional issues should be decided by the Lebanese government — not the United Nations.
The February 2005 truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others sparked huge protests against Syria, which was widely seen as culpable. Damascus denied involvement, but was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after 29 years there. The U.N. investigation into Hariri’s assassination broadened to include the 14 other Lebanese killings.
Asked whether he believed Syria was involved in Gemayel’s assassination, Bolton said: “We need to find out all of the facts, but you can take a look at the pattern of who gets assassinated in Lebanon.”
The first U.N. chief investigator, Germany’s Detlev Mehlis, said the killing’s complexity suggested the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services both played a role in Hariri’s assassination. In one report, Mehlis implicated Brig. Gen. Assaf Shawkat, Syria’s military intelligence chief and the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
His successor, Belgian Judge Serge Brammertz, has shied away naming anyone but has described it as a very complex operation.
Four Lebanese generals — top pro-Syrian security chiefs under Lahoud including his presidential guard commander — have been under arrest for 14 months, accused of involvement in Hariri’s killing.