Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel was killed in a terrorist attack in Jdeideh in Beirut minutes ago. He was reportedly gunned down.
The assassination took place as Saad Hariri was declaring in a press conference that March 14 was ready for a “peaceful confrontation” with Hizbullah and the pro-Syrians parties, who want to stage a coup in the country and put Syria back in control through street protests.
Saad interrupted the press conference upon receiving the news. He then returned to announce that Gemayel was killed, and accused the Assad regime of trying to kill every free person in Lebanon.
Hariri said, choking with tears, "There is nothing left to discuss with the killer Syrian regime. The international tribunal is between us, and let whatever happens happen."
Samir Geagea had warned days ago that March 14 ministers would be subject to assassination attempts by the Assad regime to topple the government.
Tomorrow is Lebanon's independence day.
Update. Angry crowds are gathering outside the St Joseph hospital and chanting anti-Aoun and anti-Hizbullah slogans. As Anton Effendi said, this assassination guarantees that any street protest now will devolve into clashes. The Kataeb party, of which Gemayel is a member, is calling on people to excercise self restraint.
With this assassination, March 14 has lost a member of parliament and a cabinet minister. For the Assad regime, one less March 14 vote means one less vote to ratify the international tribunal.
The eyes now are on the UN Security council, which must endorse the international tribunal as soon as possible
Update 2. Syrian-installed president Emile Lahoud has canceled the November 22nd independence day celebrations to mourn the loss of what he now referred to as a minister. Not long ago, he considered Gemayel and the rest of cabinet illegitimate following the resignation of the Shia ministers and the pro-Lahoud minister.
Meanwhile, Interior minister Ahmad Fatfat has accused Syria of standing behind Gemayel's assassination.
Update 3. Geagea has called on Lahoud to resign immediately, accusing him of acting as a cover for the terrorist attacks. He also called on the Amal and Hizbullah ministers to return to the cabinet.
Update 4 (11am EST). The crowds outside the hospital are calling on people and March 14 to take to the streets.
Meanwhile, gunmen have fired shots at the office of another March 14 minister, Michel Pharaon in Ashrafieh.
It looks like March 14 is under attack.
March 14 leaders will meet tonight to decide on a course of action.
Update 5. A distraught Amin Gemayel (Pierre's father) addressed the crowds. He asked all those who loved Pierre to preserve the cause he died for. He called for self-restraint so not to desecrate what he said is the cause for freedom. He asked everyone to use this night to pray and think about the meaning of martyrdom, and how to protect this country, away from revenge and irresponsible actions.
" We want the Lebanese cause to triumph. I wish upon all those who loved Pierre to safeguard the cause", he said.
Update 6 (11:40 EST). Walid Jumblatt visited the hospital and have a short statement amid anti-Aoun and anti-Nasrallah chants. He affirmed that the international tribunal is coming and warned against civil strife. "They want to create civil strife... We will triumph. We will not let them drag us to sedition," he said.
"As we were on that great day (March 14) with Pierre in the lead, peaceful and democratic for Lebanon, we will remain," he added.
Update 7 (1:30 PM EST). Michel Aoun, who has over the past year reduced hismelf into a defender of the Assad regime, read a statement in the name of his parliamentary bloc condemning the "horrific assassination of one of our national symbols MP and Minister Pierre Gemayel." Aoun asked "the authorities to uncover the masterminds, the instigators and the perpetrators of this horrendous crime as soon as possible and in the most efficient way. This crime aims at undermining the unity of the Lebanese people and we fear it also aims at creating conflicts within the Christian community..." (tayyar.org)
A group of youth in the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Ashrafieh responded by burning Aoun's giant poster in Sassine square. Picture courtesy of Elaph.