Instability feared in Lebanon after assassination

CNN Wire Service

Last week’s deadly car bombing in Beirut has exposed Lebanon’s tenuous stability, as fears mount that the country could slip into chaos and be dragged into Syria’s bloody civil war.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday was the latest to express “concern about the stability of Lebanon,” following a meeting with the country’s prime minister, the state-run news outlet NNA reported.

Friday’s bombing killed the nation’s intelligence chief, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, and triggered unrest. Sporadic fighting has erupted across Lebanon since.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati is now facing challenges to his leadership.

On Tuesday, lawmaker Khaled Daher said he will call people to the streets if Mikati’s Cabinet does not step down.

“We demand this Cabinet step down because it has done nothing but shroud the country in chaos, at all levels, reaching economic bodies,” Daher told Orient Radio.

The Cabinet has become a huge burden that has served Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime the most, the lawmaker said.

Al-Assad’s government holds significant influence in Lebanon, and many believe the Syrian leader wants to promote instability in Lebanon to divert attention from the civil war in his own country.

Hezbollah, a powerful political faction in Lebanon backed by Iran and Syria, also released a statement Tuesday saying the assassination was an attempt to create instability.

The bombing was meant to “incite internal strife,” Hezbollah Deputy Secretary Gen. Sheikh Naim Qassem said on the group’s website.

After the announcement that an FBI team is headed to Lebanon to assist in the investigation, Qassem called the matter an “internal issue.”

Hezbollah, a Shiite militia, plays a prominent role in Lebanon’s government despite being branded a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel.

In other developments Tuesday, Lebanon’s interior minister said investigators have found that the car bomb was placed inside a stolen Toyota RAV4, a lead that could help the probe.

Meanwhile, Mikati signed a declaration referring al-Hassan’s assassination to the nation’s Judicial Council. The process needs to move faster, he said.

At least seven people were killed in the unrest on Monday, authorities said, as Sunnis and Alawites — an offshoot of Shiite Islam — clashed in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, NNA reported.