A powerful bomb killed a Christian parliament member in a suburb outside of Beirut Wednesday – a week ahead of Lebanon’s presidential vote.
Antoine Ghanem, 64, was a member of the Christian Phalange party and the eighth anti-Syria figure and fourth lawmaker to be assassinated in less than three years, according to The Associated Press. Ghanem had only returned from refuge abroad two days prior to his unexpected death.
“I strongly condemn today’s horrific assassination of Lebanese Member of Parliament Antoine Ghanem,” said U.S. President George W. Bush in a statement Wednesday. “I extend my personal condolences to his family and the families of the innocent persons who were murdered alongside him in Beirut.”
The bomb exploded in the Christian neighborhood of Sin el-Fil district killing six others and injuring more than 67 people. The blast severely damaged nearby buildings and reportedly flung debris and blood along the streets. Experts say the bomb was likely detonated by remote control near Ghanem’s car.
Lebanese lawmakers are blaming Syria for Ghanem’s death, accusing its government of trying to derail the upcoming presidential vote. Lebanon’s parliament will begin voting next Tuesday for the successor to current pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud, who is due to step down on Nov. 23.
“It (Syria) is the only regime that does not want presidential elections in Lebanon to be held,” said cabinet member Ahmed Fatfat, according to AP.
Lebanon elected a government led by anti-Syria lawmakers in 2005 after the widely condemned assassination of a prominent anti-Syrian figure. However, a power struggle persists in parliament between the Western-backed, anti-Syrian majority and the pro-Damascus opposition Hezbollah.
“The bombing that claimed these lives was another in a campaign of terror by those who want to turn back the clock on Lebanon’s hard-win democratic gains,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement. “Enemies of peace and freedom want to gain through violence, threat, and intimidation what they cannot win in free and fair elections.”
The anti-Syrian coalition now has 68 seats in the now 127-seat parliament – or only three above an absolute majority of 65.
“We do not fear terrorism and this will not break our will,” information minister Ghazi Aridi said, according to Agence France-Presse. “It will only reinforce our determination to prevent the terrorists from succeeding.”
Damascus has refuted accusations of involvement in the political killings.
The United Nations and the European Union have also condemned the assassination. U.N. general secretary Ban Ki-moon denounced the incident as a “brutal assassination,” according to AFP.
The funeral for Antoine Ghanem is set for Friday.