December 12, 2007

Lebanese Gen Francois al-Hajj killed

Lebanon's Army Chief of Operations, and top candidate for Army Chief of Staff, was killed today in a car bombing near the Presidential Palace in Beirut. (The current Chief of Staff, Gen. Michel Suleiman, is a possible presidential candidate; though that process persists in confessional gridlock). For many the first question is, who did it? (And why?) The NYT reports,

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the officer, Brig. Gen. François al-Hajj, was closely involved in the army’s fierce offensive over the summer to clear out Fatah al Islam, a militia group inspired by Al Qaeda, from a refugee camp north of Tripoli. During the weeks of fighting, seven car bombs went off in Beirut.

But the BBC highlights several competing accusations.

Some pro-Western politicians blamed Syria, which has been implicated in some attacks against anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians in recent years. Syria has denied involvement.

Lebanese telecommunications minister Marwan Hamadeh accused the "Syrian-Iranian axis" of attacking the military, "the only body in Lebanon who can balance the power of Hezbollah and other militias in the country".

However, Hezbollah , which is backed by Syria, and its Christian ally Michel Aoun, both denounced the attack.

Charlie is no substitute for Abu Muqawama on all issues Lebanese (Charlie knows, you guys are starting to wonder what it is she actually does here...she asks herself that everyday). But there are more than few Lebanon-watchers amongst our eclectic readership. Should we be surprised at this attack? Who's the most likely culprit, and who has the most to gain from the attack? What does it mean for the presidential "contest"? How will it affect the various rival militias, including Hizbollah?

Check the comments for expert opinions; and look for an update from AM later this week.