BEIRUT (AFP) – Bahia Hariri, sister of slain former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, is increasingly seen as his possible political heiress, charged with carrying on a mission that has marked politics here for the past 15 years. Within hours Saturday of an explosion in a Christian neighborhood that injured 11 people, she was at the site of the blast to reassure residents, telling them not to afraid. “They (the perpetrators) won’t succeed in terrorizing us,” she declared. With mourning for her brother, killed in a bomb blast February 14, behind her, Bahia Hariri — a deputy from the southern city of Sidon — has also become more prominent in her pronouncements backing the Lebanese opposition.

But she has at the same time been careful not to cut her ties to Syria and its allies in Lebanon, consistent with the Wave of the Future movement established by her brother.

Instead, she has insisted on several recent occasions on preserving links to Syria, arguing that such was the wish of her brother even at the height of his political disagreements with Damascus.

Despite denials by authorities here and in Damascus, Syrian and Lebanese intelligence agents have been blamed by the opposition for Hariri’s assassination.

Addressing an unprecedented, million-strong rally in central Beirut on March 14, called in memory of Rafiq Hariri, she appealed for her brother’s political initiatives to be preserved — “the strengthening of national unity and economic recovery.”

She spoke directly to Gulf Arab states and to the international business community, urging them “not to turn away from Lebanon.’

The investments made in Lebanon by Hariri, an extraordinarily successful businessman, were encouraged by Saudi Arabia — his second home — and were seen as shoring up confidence in Lebanon following its devastating 1975-1990 civil war.

Bahia Hariri in the past several days has met with economic associations here, urging them to do everything possible to ensure that the summer tourist season — a key source of hard cash — is not jeopardized by the latest turmoil.

To make her point, she visited Beirut’s sea-front this week to show solidarity with hotel managers whose facilties were damaged in the massive explosion, which killed Hariri and 18 other people.

Speaking from one establishment overlooking the scene of the blast, she called for April 13, the 30th anniversary of the start of the Lebanese civil war, to become a “festival for peace and unity.”

For many here, Bahia is a compelling symbol of courage, a woman in her 50s who has got past loss and intense grief to fight for national unity.

Already cell phone text messages circulating in their thousands are urging her to be named Lebanon’s next prime minister, which would be a first in the Arab world.

She has also reached out to the pro-Syrian Shiite Muslim movements Hezbollah and Amal, stressing that she opposes Hezbollah’s disarmament and the marginalization of the Shia community with the end of Syria’s military presence in Lebanon.

Her statements have been welcomed by Hezbollah and Amal head Nabih Berri for their tone of moderation and unity.


But all that did not deter her from calling two weeks ago for the resignation of pro-Syrian Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karameh, suggesting that he should assume responsibility, “at least by omission,” for the death of her brother.

She has since then spearheaded a national “Truth and Justice” campaign that advocates an international investigation into Rafiq Hariri’s murder.