Two members of the Christian Phalange Party in Lebanon have been shot dead at the opening of a new office in the town of Zahle. It is not clear who was behind Sunday’s shooting, which injured three others. The Lebanese army has been heavily deployed in the town, and funerals are to be held on Tuesday.

Zahle, Lebanon – The town of Zahle, eastern Lebanon, was gripped Monday by tension as residents observed a day of mourning following the deadly shooting of two Christian Phalange party members a day earlier. The funerals for Nasri al-Maroni and Salim Assi, who were shot dead by gunmen on Sunday while inaugurating a new office for their party in Zahle, have been scheduled for Tuesday. According to initial police investigations, one of the gunmen was identified as Joseph Zouki. Police said they had launched a manhunt for him. He is believed to be a supporter of Zahle MP Elie Skaff, a Christian who backs the pro- Syrian opposition. Security sources in Zahle said that they were also looking for Zouki’s brother, Toni, whom they suspect was with him at the time of the shooting. Police sources said Monday Walid Zouki, a relative of Joseph, had surrendered to police. While Walid was not a prime suspect, "he had some role" in the crime, they added.

Phalange leader and former president Amin Gemayel called the incident a "premeditated act" to incite civil strife and held "the leaders of the opposition responsible." The former president’s son Sami Gemayel had just left the inauguration at the time of the shooting. Gemayel’s son Pierre, former industry minister and also an MP, was assassinated in November 2006. MP Elie Skaff, whom the assailants support, rejected Gemayel’s accusations and said his men were attacked by the Phalange party members first. This was an "isolated act", he said that he would "not provide protection for the assailants," adding, "I would say the incident took place as a self-defence act." Meanwhile, security was tight as police had set up checkpoints across the town and searched the homes of suspected assailants.

The Phalange Party is part of the governing coalition, which has been paralysed by a long-running standoff with the opposition. The political tension has spilled over into assassinations and street violence in which several people were killed.

There have been 17 attempts to convene a parliament session to elect a president, but every single one has failed so far. The next session, is scheduled for Tuesday, but government sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur