Hariri assassination raises fear of instability for Mideast

Posted in Broader Middle East | 15-Feb-05 | Source: USA Today

Lebanese police officers block the scene of a massive bomb attack that tore through the motorcade of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon Monday, Feb. 14, 2005.
CAIRO (AP) — Across the Middle East, Monday's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri raised fears that old wounds could be reopened and a fragile Palestinian-Israeli truce could be threatened.

Lebanon, largely because of the Syrian influence there, remains an important part of the Mideast peace equation. The Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah has launched occasional attacks on Israeli forces in a disputed area near the Lebanese-Israeli border, and Israeli officials recently accused the group of plotting to assassinate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to scuttle a fragile truce.

"The stability of Lebanon is in the interest of the Palestinians. The assassination of Hariri threatens regional security," Palestinian National Security Adviser Jibril Rajoub said.

Numerous regional governments, including Syria, rushed to condemn the attack. Much of the attention in Lebanon turned to Hezbollah and Syrian security forces to see if the attack signaled a stand against the Mideast truce or a hardening insistence on Syrian domination of Lebanon.

Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres said "many innocent people lost their lives because they have a state within a state, an army within an army and respect for life is not high enough."

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the pan-Arab television station Al-Arabiya that the attack would affect stability in the entire region.

"I ask God to protect and perserve Lebanon from the dangerous slide (into violence), and that the Lebanese government can quickly bring things back to normal," Allawi said.

Hezbollah and Syrian President Hafez Assad condemned the attack, along with Palestinian militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

Assad urged the Lebanese people to reject those who plant "schism among the people" during this "critical situation," according to Syria's official news agency.

France, Lebanon's colonial power, demanded an international investigation into the assassination, with French President Jacques Chirac — a close friend of Hariri — saying in a statement from his office that the attack "provokes horror."

Hariri's wide international business and political connections helped earn Lebanon recognition and attracted badly needed foreign investment — some of which could now be scared away.

"There are fears and worries. Unfortunately, I think a lot of these fears will materialize," said Nassib Nasr, the Lebanon director for the Paris-based firm Apave, which has worked in the country since 1994 and has 30 employees there. "There will be a lot of change. In all directions, not only economic."