TRIPOLI, Lebanon (AFP) – The Lebanese army on Thursday held an emotional ceremony for nine soldiers who were among 14 people killed in a bomb attack the previous day that targeted the military in northern Lebanon. But even as the ceremony was underway in the tense northern city of Tripoli a man was shot and wounded near flashpoint neighbourhoods where 23 people were killed in sectarian fighting in June and July, a police official said. Thunderous applause broke out as nine coffins draped in Lebanese flags were carried shoulder high by comrades of the dead soldiers into a sports stadium in the port city. Another group of soldiers carrying wreath composed of white, red and green flowers — the colours of the Lebanese flag — preceded the pall-bearers into the stadium.Interior Minister Ziad Baroud and acting army chief Shawki al-Masri attended the ceremony alongside relatives and friends of the soldiers, who wept as the coffins were brought into the stadium to a full military salute. The soldiers aged between 21 and 32 were killed when a bomb hidden in a bag exploded near a bus stop during morning rush hour on Wednesday. A shoeshine boy was among the five other civilians killed in the attack.  The attack was the deadliest in the troubled country in three years and came only hours before President Michel Sleiman, the former army chief, was due to begin a visit to neighbouring Syria to launch first ever diplomatic ties. President Suleiman held a meeting with security officials in the presence of Defense, Interior and Finance minister to direct the investigation. Forty people were also injured in the attack. Masri denounced what he called "cowardly terrorism which targets the Lebanese army" and said that the attack "will not deter the army from its duty to defend the nation." Shawki has been at the helm of the army since Sleiman was elected president on May 25, after rival politicians reached a power-sharing agreement in the Qatari capital of Doha to end 18 months of political crisis. Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, whose recently-formed cabinet was confirmed by parliament just a day before the attack, called for three days of mourning across Lebanon from Thursday. Siniora had also called for a one-hour work-stoppage across the country at midday Thursday. The call was heeded throughout Tripoli where residents also observed five minutes of silence at the request of the prime minister, while black flags decked Lebanon’s second city in sign of mourning. Funerals for the soldiers will be held privately.

By Nazih Siddiq , TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) – A bomb killed at least 14 people, including nine soldiers, at a bus stop in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Wednesday, security sources said.  The bomb, which also wounded at least 45 people, was the deadliest attack on the army since its battle with al Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants in the north last year. It had been placed in a bag at the bus stop where soldiers usually gather, the army said in a statement, describing the attack as a "terrorist bombing" — a phrase used in the past by the military when it suspects militant Islamist involvement.  The army put the initial death toll at 11 but other medical and security sources said it had risen as casualties died from their wounds. The blast struck at 7.45 a.m. (5:45 a.m. British time) as people made their way to work. Red Cross workers ferried casualties to hospital. The ground was spattered with blood and covered in shards of glass, television pictures showed.  There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack in Lebanon’s second largest city, which has been the scene of fighting between security forces and Islamist militants and sectarian violence linked to political tension in Lebanon.  "The army and security forces will not yield to attempts to terrorise them with attacks and crimes," said President Michel Suleiman, who had been army chief until his election in May.

(AFP) by Omar Ibrahim, A child who was polishing shoes on the street was among the 14 dead, the official said, adding that nine of those killed and many of the wounded were soldiers. "My son! My son!," screamed one mother striking her chest at a Tripoli hospital after learning that her 22-year-old soldier son was dead. It was the deadliest attack on the army since a 15-week battle last year the Al-Qaeda inspired Fatah al-Islam militia in an impoverished Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli that left 400 people dead, including 168 soldiers. The army said the bomb was planted in a bag at a military gathering point in the Masarif Street commercial district of Tripoli and exploded near a public bus carrying soldiers from the northern region of Akkar. "The terrorist explosion directly targets the army and peaceful co-existence in the country," it said in a statement. The attack also came just a day after a national unity government formed by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora following 18 months of deadly tensions with the Hezbollah-led opposition finally won a vote of confidence in parliament. The crisis had pushed the country to the brink of a new civil war and was only ended by an Arab-brokered power-sharing agreement in May.

Sleiman, who was army chief until his election as president by MPs in May, condemned what he called a "terrorist crime," a sentiment echoed by Syria. "The army and security forces will not be terrorised by attacks and crimes that target it and civil society, and the history of the army attests to that," Sleiman said in a statement. The security official said the bomb was packed with 20 kilogrammes (44 pounds) of explosives, and the force of the blast blew the remains of some of the dead on to the roofs of nearby buildings. The Mediterranean port city has been rocked by deadly violence between anti-Syrian supporters Siniora and his Damascus-backed rivals amid a long-running political crisis. In Tripoli, desperate families gathered at four hospitals to check on the fate of their loved ones but were blocked by security from entering. One hospital official said identification was delayed because some bodies were mutilated beyond recognition. "The hands of the criminals have hit in Tripoli," said Information Minister Tareq Mitri. "The investigation has begun and there are many interpretations, political interpretations."

In June and July, 23 people were killed in battles between Sunni Muslim supporters of Siniora and their Alawite opponents in the neighbourhoods of Bab al-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen — a mile from Masarif Street.

Bab al-Tebbaneh is a Sunni stronghold while Jabal Mohsen is mainly Alawite.

There has been tension between the two communities ever since Lebanon‘s 1975-1990 civil war. Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam and straddle the border into Syria whose President Bashar al-Assad is a follower of the faith.

The explosion came hours before Sleiman was to visit Damascus for a landmark summit with Assad amid moves to establish diplomatic relations for the first time.

"Syria staunchly denounces the criminal act perpetrated this morning in Tripoli that killed many innocent civilians," the Syrian foreign ministry said.

Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri said the timing of the bombing reflects efforts "to prevent the improvement of Lebanese-Syrian relations."

Arab League Amr Mussa said it was "aimed at complicating the security and political situation in Lebanon and hampering the launch of the new government."

There has been as a spate of assassinations of anti-Syrian public figures since 2005, most notably five-time prime minister Rafiq Hariri, which have been widely blamed on Damascus.

Oussama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, said the attack could have been one of a series he saw as retribution for the army’s crushing of Fatah al-Islam last year.

Suleiman led the army during 15 weeks of fighting last year with the al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam group, which was based at a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli. The army lost 170 soldiers while putting down the insurrection at the Nahr al-Bared camp.  Fatah al-Islam, a group which drew fighters from across the Arab world, claimed responsibility for a bomb attack that killed a soldier in north Lebanon in late May.  The Tripoli attack was the latest jolt to stability in Lebanon, which has suffered a wave of bombings and political killings since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The list of assassinated figures includes Francois al-Hajj, a senior army officer blown up in December.

"MANY INTERPRETATIONS" "The investigation has begun and there are many interpretations, political interpretations" Information Minister Tareq Mitri said, responding to media speculation that the attack was designed to undermine a visit to Syria by Suleiman.  He was due to visit Damascus on Wednesday for the first time since his election as president. He is scheduled to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a visit seen a sign of improved ties between Beirut and Damascus

Daily Star staff, BEIRUT: Lebanese and international officials on Thursday continued to condemn Wednesday’s bomb attack on a bus in the Northern city of Tripoli which killed at least 14 people, including nine soldiers, and wounded more than 40. The blast, which was the deadliest attack on the Lebanese army since it engaged in fighting against Fatah al-Islam militants in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp last year, went off in a busy commercial street during the morning’s rush hour and came a day after the government won a vote of confidence from Parliament. The attack is widely seen as deliberately targeting the army, and destabilizing Lebanon’s already rocky political situation. The United Nations Security Council issued a statement that "condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in Tripoli." Belgian Ambassador to the United Nations Jan Grauls, who is council chair for August, read out the statement. Council members emphasized the need "to bring the perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of this reprehensible act of terrorism to justice."  They also called for "an end to impunity [to violence] in Lebanon and reiterated full support for all ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, solidify democratic institutions, engage in political dialogue and pursue national reconciliation."  The Arab League likewise condemned the "terrorist attack," with Secretary General Amr Moussa offering his "sincere condolences" to the victims’ families. Moussa called on Lebanon’s political parties to unite and work together to defeat terrorists, an official press release said.  Canada, Turkey, Egypt and France, as well as Palestinian representatives in Lebanon also denounced the bombing. A statement issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed Turkey’s belief "that the government and the people of Lebanon will not allow this heinous terrorist act to hamper the achievement made in establishing national reconciliation, permanent peace and stability in Lebanon in the recent period." Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit also condemned Wednesday’s attack on the army, which he referred to as "the symbol of the state’s unity and stability," and added that Egypt fully supported Lebanon, its army and constitutional institutions.  The Lebanese Maronite League slammed the "horrible massacre," saying that targeting Lebanon’s Army and civilians "in a series of hellish attacks aimed at the state, the rule of law and stability" hindered the launch of Lebanese institutions.  "All political parties must support the Lebanese Army and security forces, so that our soldiers can perform their duties without hesitation," said MP Wael Abu Faour on Thursday following a meeting with Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Ahmad al-Biddawi.  Agriculture Minister Elias Skaff said that Wednesday’s bombing was meant to undermine the visit of President Michel Suleiman to Damascus later the same day.  Meanwhile on Thursday, Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar told Voice of Lebanon radio that witnesses to the attack saw someone with a case of explosives, adding that security cameras in the area had confirmed the sighting.  According to Najjar, the bombing was either carried out in retaliation to the army’s fight against Fatah al-Islam last year, or an attempt to drive the country’s armed forces into another violent confrontation. –

Daily Star staff
Friday, August 15, 2008

BEIRUT: Investigative Magistrate into the Nahr al-Bared incidents Judge Ghassan Oweidat ordered the release on bail Thursday of detainees in the case, a judicial report said.

The report said that after receiving the approval of State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza, Oweidat released 15 detainees. One of them is Tunisian and the others are Lebanese and Palestinians. Oweidat placed the bail at LL500,000.

Fighting in the northern Nahr al-Bared  Palestinian Refugee Camp last summer between the Lebanese Armed Forces and the al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam militants left about 42 civilians, 220 soldiers and 170 militant fighters dead.

Families of Islamist militants, who had been arrested following the almost four-month battle at  Nahr al-Bared, staged a sit-in in front of the military court in Beirut on Monday in protest against the arrest of their family members for nearly two years without trial.

We want full amnesty to more than 300 Islamist detainees before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan," said a statement issued by the protesters. They also said that their sons had been arrested "illegally" after they were taken from their homes to the Roumieh prison.

Oweidat’s decision comes one day after a bomb attack in the northern coastal town of Tripoli killed at least 14 people, including nine Lebanese, Army soldiers and wounded scores other. – The Daily Star