March 14 MP and Kataeb party member Antoine Ghanem was reportedly killed today in a massive bomb attack in Sin El Fil, Beirut. LBC reported 6 dead so far including Ghanem, and ten wounded.
The assassination comes 6 days before a scheduled parliament session to elect a president. The pro-Syrian and Hizbullah-led coalition threatened to boycott the session if March 14 used a majority vote to elect a president. Many in March 14 expected political assassinations to precede the election and reduce the parliament's majority. The Assad regime opposes a president from March 14, and insists on a pro-Syrian president to safeguard its interests and the interests of its allies in the country, including Hizbullah. The Assad regime also wants a president to "open a dialogue" on recent UNSC resolutions calling on Syria to respect Lebanese sovereignty and establishing a tribunal to try those responsible for the Hariri assassination and other political crimes in the country.
According to al-Markazia, Syria rejected a French deal for more open relations between the EU and Syria, as well as a seat in the upcoming Middle East peace conference in Washington, in return for lifting of the Syrian veto on the Lebanese presidential election. Just today, the regime's mouthpiece al-Thawra published a scathing and personal attack on French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who on more than one occasion publicly proposed open relations with Syria if the latter stopped blowing up its Lebanese opponents and allowed parliament to vote in a president.
Antoine Ghanem was reportedly a moderate well liked by MPs from both sides of the divide. With his murder, the majority lost another vote, and March 14 MPs may not feel safe anymore to stay in the country, let alone head to parliament on September 25th to elect a president. Many MPs are outside the country (including Ghanem, who just returned). As for the Assad regime, it has just reconfirmed to the world, especially to the French, that it does not care about dialogue or open relations with the west.
Update. According to MP Wael Abou Faour, Ghanem, who arrived in Lebanon two days ago, told him he wasn't afraid and said they should all head to parliament to elect a new president . Ghanem belonged to Walid Jumblatt's bloc.
Update 2. The death toll rose to nine.
Update 3. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Lebanese security agencies (he didn't specify) are infiltrated (presumably by Syrian intelligence), which he said facilitates the work of the killers, the aim being to reduce the parliament's majority.
Update 4. From Naharnet:
A friend of the victim, speaking on condition of anonymity, quoted Ghanem as telling him Tuesday evening: "I face the threat of assassination. They want to kill me to open the door for by-elections to choose a new MP from (Michel Aoun's) Free Patriotic Movement." Ghanem had represented the Baabda-Aley constituency in parliament since the year 2000. Ghanem's constituency houses Hizbullah's stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut, where the party that is opposed to the March 14 alliance carries a sizeable influence.