LEBANON: Blast kills Lebanese journalist

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A car bomb exploded in a Christian area of Beirut Thursday, killing a prominent journalist known for his opposition to Syria’s involvement in Lebanon, according Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati.The journalist, identified as Samir Kassir, wrote for the Lebanese daily newspaper An Nahar — A publication often critical of Syria..An unidentified woman was wounded in the blast, officials said. Lebanon is in the midst of parliamentary elections that began May 29 and run through June 19. The explosion occurred mid-morning in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Beirut, setting the car on fire and killing the occupant. Police, who cordoned off the area around the charred car, said the bomb was placed under the driver’s seat. Kassir’s body lay slumped on one side inside the blasted vehicle, an Alfa-Romeo sedan.

“Every time Lebanon takes a step forward, there are those who want to undermine this country,” Mikati said, according to The Associated Press.

Calling the murder painful, he ordered security agencies to take measures to uncover the circumstances of the bombing.

“We will not allow anyone to target security and freedom,” Mikati said.

Gibran Tueni, An-Nahar’s general manager, stood next to Mikati but did not speak to reporters, AP reported.

In the parliamentary elections, Tueni won a seat for Beirut for the opposition last Sunday.

The operator and journalists at An-Nahar confirmed Kassir’s death, but there was no statement from the newspaper.

Another newly elected opposition legislator for Beirut, Solange Gemayel, said Kassir campaigned in his writings against Syrian control and hegemony.

Samir Kassir wrote for the Lebanese daily newspaper An Nahar.

“It looks like we’re not done yet with Syria,” she told AP, implicitly blaming the Syrians, who had withdrawn their army from Lebanon in April under international pressure.

Michel Aoun, an opposition leader who was announcing his list of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections in central Lebanon, began the news conference with a moment of silence, describing Kassir as “one of the great journalists who never hesitated or was afraid to say the truth and defend Lebanon.”

A series of explosions have targeted Christian areas of Beirut and the Christian heartland in the last few months, killing three people and injuring 24.

In his last column that appeared in An-Nahar’s front page on Friday, Kassir lambasted Syria’s lack of desire to enact rapid change, saying “reform for the (ruling) baathists does not mean accepting opposing views.

“The huge regional changes from Iraq to Lebanon only drive them to warn of U.S. dangers without thinking for a minute of the best ways to prevent this danger.”

Rafik Hariri, a businessman-turned-politician who led Lebanon’s pro-Syrian government before becoming an advocate of Syria’s withdrawal, was killed in a bombing in Beirut in February.

His death sparked massive protests and renewed international pressure on Damascus to withdraw the nearly 14,000 troops and intelligence officers it kept in Lebanon — a pullout that was completed in April.

CNN Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler contributed to this report