Thousands of Lebanese attended the funeral of the Christian, anti-Syrian lawmaker Friday whose assassination throws the already divided country into deeper schism ahead of the presidential vote this coming week.
Family members, friends, politicians, and supporters of Antoine Ghanem, 64, paid their final respect to the lawmaker at a church in east Beirut, with some waving the white and green flag of the Christian Phalange party to which Ghanem belonged.
A powerful car bomb on Wednesday killed the lawmaker and six others in a Christian neighborhood outside of Beirut. The explosion injured at least 67 other people nearby.
Ghanem’s party blames Syria for his death although Damascus has denied involvement. Ghanem was the fourth anti-Syrian lawmaker and eighth overall to be assassinated since a massive blast killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
“We can’t keep burying people every couple of months,” said one Phalange party supporter, Nadine Akl, according to the New York Times. “These assassinations have to stop. Syria and others have to leave us alone.”
Schools and many businesses across the country were closed for a second day of mourning Friday in observance of a strike called by the Phalange party.
Among the attendees of Friday’s funeral was Amin Gemayel, the head of the Phalange Party and a former president of Lebanon. His son, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, was killed last November after being a vocal critic of Syria’s military presence and political domination in Lebanon. Pierre Gemayel was the third person in his family to be assassinated in 25 years.
Gemayel urged lawmakers to attend next Tuesday’s Parliament session and elect the country’s next president; lawmakers from both sides have threatened to not attend the session.
“Those who wish evil for Lebanon will be deterred,” Gemayel said. “Your martyrdom is a new incentive to carry out the presidential election.”
While emotions run high and antagonism deepens between political parties, some, however, are calling for compromise.
A Christian Middle East scholar in Lebanon, who requested to remain anonymous, said he does not find U.S. policy, or that of Syria and Israel, to be helpful because they are creating greater division in Lebanon.
“Washington has seen fit to take sides in the ongoing political polarization here and did not instead opt for encouraging a compromise settlement that would promote balance and inclusiveness – two elements Lebanon badly needs right now in order to calm down,” he wrote in an email to The Christian Post.
Lebanon’s parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, a member of the pro-Syrian opposition, has also pushed for the two sides to find a consensus candidate, according to Agence France-Presse.
The Parliament is scheduled to vote for the successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud on Tuesday. Lahoud must step down on Nov. 25.