Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Prominent Lebanese Politician Gunned Down

Aired November 21, 2006 - 12:00   ET


STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Shock and worldwide condemnation. A vocal critic of Syria and a voice for a democratic Lebanon is assassinated.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: And new ties between weary neighbors. Iraq restores relations with Syria in a bid to end the insurgency.

It is 7:00 p.m. in Lebanon right now, 8:00 p.m. in Iraq.

Hello and welcome to our report broadcast around the globe.

I'm Hala Gorani.

FRAZIER: I'm Stephen Frazier.

From Beirut to Baghdad, Washington to Damascus, wherever you're watching, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

GORANI: Lebanon is a in a state of shock today. After weeks of political turmoil, now the country must deal with yet another assassination.

FRAZIER: A prominent anti-Syrian politician, Pierre Gemayel, gunned down at close range on the streets of Beirut.

GORANI: Now, it comes as the United Nations draws closer to approving an international tribunal to look into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

We'll check in with our Brent Sadler in Beirut in a moment.

But first, let's cross over to the United Nations. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, joins us now live.

Your reaction, John Bolton?

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMB. TO U.N.: Well, this is obviously a great tragedy. Shocking, potentially devastating to the government of Lebanon.

The White House warned about two weeks ago that Syria and Iran, acting through Hezbollah, might be on the verge of an attempted coup d'etat in Lebanon. One has to wonder whether this -- this despicable assassination is not the first shot.

GORANI: So do you think Syria was behind this? BOLTON: Well, you can't say for certain, obviously. But it's an interesting coincidence that eight of the last political assassinations in Lebanon have all been conducted against anti-Syrian politicians. One can follow the logic there, I think.

GORANI: So if it is found that Syria or Syrian agents inside of Lebanon had something to do with this or other assassinations, what should happen, in your opinion?

BOLTON: Well, you know, right here today, literally, as we're speaking in the Security Council, we're trying to reach an agreement on establishing an international tribunal for the prosecution of those responsible for the terrorist assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, and indeed the possibility of these other terrorist assassinations as well.

The sad event in Beirut today couldn't be stronger evidence for why we need to get this tribunal established as soon as possible.

GORANI: Now, some on the Security Council say no, no, no, this is exactly the wrong time to push through the Hariri tribunal, there's too much instability inside of Lebanon.

Why not put it on hold?

BOLTON: Sure, why not put justice on hold forever? That's one theory.

I think we're very close to agreement in the Security Council. Lebanon needs those responsible for conducting these assassinations brought to justice. How else can you create a democratic and peaceful society unless the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to justice?

GORANI: Now, on this day, the day Pierre Gemayel was assassinated in Beirut, the Lebanese cabinet is essentially on the verge of collapse. You had the resignation of Shiite ministers, even a Christian minister who was pro-Syrian.

Will it survive? Do you think there will be a coup in Lebanon?

BOLTON: I don't think there's any doubt that this is a direct assault on the democratic government and the supporters of democracy in Lebanon. We certainly hope that the democratically-elected government survives.

That's one reason why the Security Council needs to act today toe create this tribunal of an international character. This is not the time to be deterred or be intimidated by these acts of political assassination.

GORANI: But if this tribunal is opposed by so many in Lebanon, the Shiites, Hezbollah, Amal, other pro-Syrians who say it's illegitimate because it was passed by an illegitimate government that have suffered resignations, then wouldn't it create more conflict in Lebanon? BOLTON: If you give in to those who threaten and kill, you're going to get the kind of government that they expect. It's for those courageous people who stand up for democracy and justice who are trying to push this through. And ultimately, it will be a decision of the parliament of Lebanon if they choose to accept this tribunal, assuming that more of them have not been assassinated.

GORANI: Do you have any fears looking at this from the outside as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. that as a result of these political assassinations there will be another civil conflict in Lebanon soon?

BOLTON: Ms. Gorani, don't you think that assassination amounts to civil conflict now? What else would you call it?

Those responsible are conducting war against the government of Lebanon and against the pro-democracy forces. The question is whether the pro-democracy forces can withstand this. And it seems to me, it is the duty of the Security Council to stand with them.

GORANI: My question was referring to an all-out civil conflict, such as the one we saw in the '70s and '80s.

BOLTON: Hezbollah has already threatened that. That's why the White House gave that warning of the attempted coup d'etat. And you'll notice that over the weekend, the leader of Hezbollah called on their supporters to engage in "peaceful demonstrations," but with the aim of bringing down the government.

GORANI: So do you have a fear for the all-out civil conflict for Lebanon?

BOLTON: I think the risk is that Syria and Iran, acting through Hezbollah, are trying to accomplish that right now. And the issue whether those who believe in democracy and those in the international community that support democracy can stand against it.

GORANI: All right.

John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Thanks for joining us on CNN.

BOLTON: Thank you.

GORANI: Stephen.

FRAZIER: Hala, with more now on the assassination, how it happened, and what's happening as a result, Beirut bureau chief Brent Sadler joins us now on the line direct from the Lebanese capital.

Brent, what's happening now?

BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: Stephen, I've just come from the house of Saad Hariri, who was holding that news conference earlier when he was given news that his friend and parliamentary colleague, Pierre Gemayel, had been assassinated in this gun attack. Now, this puts serious pressure on the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority in this country.

If you look at the maps (ph), it was 18 cabinet ministers that about a week ago passed very controversial agreements on the U.N. draft text to set up that international tribunal to kill -- to try suspected killers of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Saad Hariri, the son of the slain prime minister who heads the parliament majority here, has been saying for several days that he believes a Syrian- Iranian plot was very much active and that there was concern there could be violence, particularly as Hezbollah had threatened to take to the streets to try to topple the government of -- western-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Now, Pierre Gemayel, a third generation politician in a very important Maronite Catholic clan, if you like, family here, his father was a former Lebanese president, Amin Gemayel, during the 1980s, and his uncle was also a president-elect, was killed, assassinated in a bomb attack, again in the early 1980s. That was Amin Gemayel's brother, Bashir.

Now, we heard from Pierre Gemayel's father, former President Amin, a short time ago. And this is what he said in a translated statement.


AMIN GEMAYEL, FATHER OF ASSASSINATED OFFICIAL (through translator): I'm unable to speak about this tragedy, but I would like to say that my brother died for the cause, my niece died for the cause, and today Pierre died also for the cause.


SADLER: That from Amin Gemayel, the former president, talking about assassinations of a political nature within his family. How this now plays out on a very tense street remains to be seen.

Certainly, there have been reports of some sporadic demonstrations in parts of Christian neighborhoods and neighborhoods that were subject to unsolved bomb attacks over the past 20 months or so. And now there is very serious concern among the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority here that the United States clearly very much supports, according to what ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, was saying here, very serious concern that there could be an attempt to further destabilize the government, and perhaps by forcing a resignation within that government, that, in effect, would collapse Siniora's administration.

At the same time, we're waiting to hear what Hezbollah has to say about its threats to try to topple the government through imminent street protests. Very difficult to see, says the parliamentary majority here. Hezbollah taking to the streets in this sort of climate, now following this latest political assassination -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Brent, we want to ask you stay on the line with us here, but join us as we listen now to a message from Lebanon's president, who had something to say directly to Gemayel's family and the rest of the world.

This is President Emile Lahoud.


EMILE LAHOUD, LEBANESE PRESIDENT (through translator): I would like to say to Shaikh Amin Gemayel that your son is our son. We would like to extend our warmest condolence to you and to your family and to everyone in their family.

And I would like to say this terrorist attack will not pass unpunished. We will do everything we can to unmask the criminals who carried out this crime against all Lebanese. I would like to say one more time that your unity is your strength and this is the only way to overcome this crisis.


FRAZIER: "The unity is your strength," Brent. That would seem to be almost Orwellian in describing the situation right now in Beirut.

We were watching pictures as you were talking us earlier, Brent, of the Gemayel family welcoming well-wishers. Surely, no matter what is said in these few minutes and hours after the assassination, the timing of the assassination seems to be what speaks the loudest. Does it not? It's really in your face.

SADLER: Absolutely right, Stephen. There have been no secrets among the Lebanese as a whole that Lebanon was entering into a very dangerous standoff, potentially danger standoff between the rival political forces here during this critical period of meltdown and with this embattled government of Fouad Siniora facing up to an Hezbollah- led opposition made up of not only Shia Muslims that Hezbollah represents, but also other within the Lebanese political structure here, the religious setup among the Christians Maronites, of which Pierre Gemayel was a part of, as well as the Sunni Muslims as well, particularly in the north of Lebanon.

And Emile Lahoud, the president, is a Maronite Catholic president of this country, and he is seen very much as being a pro-Syrian president whose mandate was extended when Syria effectively controlled much of the parliamentary business, it's claimed by Syria's opponent, at that time before the Syrian withdrawal some 20 months ago.

So you have this pro-Syrian president condemning the assassination, also demanding that justice be done. The same president who was raising some details of objection to the formation of the international tribunal that was being set up to try those suspected of killing Rafik Hariri. That in itself, says the anti- Syrian majority, part and parcel of the plot to destabilize Lebanon, to derail the international tribunal, and especially to try to protect Syria, it's claimed.

Syria denies, of course, continuously any responsibility in any Lebanese killings. But given that backdrop, given the way that the forecast of doom and gloom have been pointing to some act of violence, then those forecasts have been fulfilled in the minds of many today with this killing -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: We're out of time here, Brent. We have to go. But almost a one-word answer here.

Isn't it your sense, as it is ours here, that these killings occurred while Saad Hariri was discussing that tribunal? They were actually gathered for a news conference.

SADLER: Ys, I was inside that news conference Saad Hariri was giving on live television. He assessment of the situation, his concern.

He was handed a note. I saw at the precise moment it was handed that Gemayel had been assassinated. He stood up silently and then walked out.

FRAZIER: All right, Brent. Thank you very much.

We're going to step aside for a moment. But stay with us, please. We're going to listen to the comments of the prime minister, Fouad Siniora, just addressing the nation.

Let's listen in.


FOUAD SINIORA, LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): ... have decided to add a new martyr for the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon. A new martyr has fallen today.

However, my fellow citizens, killing will not frighten us. And the killers will not intimidate us. We will not let the criminals dictate the future of Lebanon.

This attack against one of the symbols of freedom in Lebanon will make us more determined and committed to the freedom of this country and to independence and sovereignty of this country. This attack will make us more connected to the international tribunal, which is a deterrent to the criminals.

This is the path to protect all Lebanese, their freedom, and put an end to these criminal acts. It is time for Lebanese to stand united, all Lebanese, to stand united around the international court.

As prime minister, I call upon all Lebanese to unity and to stand together, to defend their security and their country. I call upon them to be vigilant to those plots which aim to destabilize Lebanon. I call upon all Lebanese on all their positions to take responsibility in the face of this tragedy.

We, in the government, we will take our responsibility fully to preserve the interests of Lebanon and their security and stability.

To my brother and friend, Shaikh Pierre, I say to him, you have proved yourself, Shaikh Pierre, but they decided to silence you. Do you know, brother, that this is the only language they understand, the language of killing and assassination. They wanted to silence you.

And to your beloved parents, and to your wife and children, and to all your friends, and to all the freedom-loving people, I promise you that your blood will not be shed in vain.

I mourn (ph) to you, on behalf of the government, my brother and my friend and my colleague, that Minister young Shaikh Pierre Gemayel, Pierre Gemayel.

Give my regards to Rafik Hariri and to all his companions, to Samir and George (ph) and Jubran and all of those freedom-loving people. And tell them that they did not die in vain, but they died for the homeland. And you have joined them today, our homeland, Lebanon, in order to be independent and free.

Lebanon will always stand high with its head high, and Lebanon will continue with the will of its sons. No matter how the murderers try to silence Lebanon and to destroy Lebanon, but Lebanon will prevail.


GORANI: All right. A critical time there for the entire nation of Lebanon, as yet another anti-Syrian politician is assassinated in Beirut.

FRAZIER: And a call for calm on part of the prime minister, and a very, very poignant listing there of all of the pantheon of heroes who have been killed there. As Fouad Siniora there said to his fallen brother, to Pierre Gemayel, "Give my regards to Rafik Hariri."

What a powerful and poignant statement. And the lists of others, George (ph), Samir, Jubran. These are all people who have been killed recently.

GORANI: Jubran Tweini as well. Calling Pierre Gemayel a "martyr who died for the cause of the nation," saying that his assassination is an attack really on the symbol of independence of the Lebanese nation, and that he, in the name of the government and in the name of the nation, says that his murder will not be in vain.

FRAZIER: This is an incredibly embattled country. The prime minister telling his citizens, "The killing will not frighten us. We won't let criminals dictate the future of Lebanon."

But that future is yet to be soon. And these are critical moments and hours ahead of us right now.

GORANI: We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back here with YOUR WORLD TODAY.


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

More of YOUR WORLD TODAY in just a few minutes. But first, a check on stories making headlines in the United States.

US Airways now at the center of a controversy involving six men described as Muslim scholars. The airlines says they were removed from a flight in Minneapolis after a passenger raised concerns. Today the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for an investigation. The group's president says the men were humiliated and disrespected.

US Airways says police were called after the men were asked to leave the plane and then refused.

New concerns of instability in the Middle East. A Lebanese cabinet minister gunned down in a Beirut suburb. Witnesses say the attacker opened fire on Pierre Gemayel's car at point-blank range.

The Christian politician was well known for his anti-Syrian stance. His killing is already stirring anger.

Saad Hariri, the majority leader of the parliament, was quick to accuse Syria. He says Damascus wants to block a U.N. investigation of Syria. A panel looking into Syria's possible role in the assassination of his father, Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri.


QUESTION: There are those on the Security Council who say now is not the time to push ahead with the tribunal given the instability in Lebanon.

BOLTON: How incredibly wrong that would be. How incredibly wrong that would be.

Instability? They're killing people in Lebanon. They're assassinating political leaders.

Not the time to seek justice? There may be those on the Security Council who say it. Let them step forward and say it.


GORANI: Hollywood film director Robert Altman is dead at age 81. Altman, the satirical genius behind the 1970 movie "M.A.S.H." He had no use (ph) for the TV series.

Altman also directed "Nashville" and "The Player". More recently, "Gosford Park" and "A Prairie Home Companion."

Altman was nominated for the best director five times but he never won. The academy did present him with the lifetime achievement ward just this year.

Jazz great Wynton Marsalis paid tribute to Ed Bradley. A memorial service for the award-winning "60 Minutes" correspondent was held in New York today. You may recall Bradley died November 9th of leukemia at age 65.

Among others paying tribute, Bradley's "60 Minutes" colleagues, actor-comedian Bill Cosby, and former President Clinton. Bradley spent the last 25 years on CBS' "60 Minutes." His reporting won him many awards, including a Peabody and 19 Emmys.

Consumer news to tell you about today. First, surviving a car crash.

The insurance industry out with its list of the safest and sturdiest, the cars and SUVs that will best protect you in an accident. None of them made in the USA.

One reason for a high safety rating, electronic stability control, technology that keeps vehicles stable in an emergency. Here are the 13 top safety picks now.

Only one large car. That's the Audi A6.

Midside cars: the Audi A4, Saab 9-3, and Subaru Legacy with optional ESC.

Two minivans won awards, the Hyundai Entourage and Kia Sedona.

Luxury SUVs, the Mercedes M class and Volvo XC90.

Midsize SUVs: the Acura RDX, Honda Pilot, and Subaru B9 Tribeca.

And small SUVs: the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester.

Jacqui Jeras watching the weather situation for us across the country.


COLLINS: Long before anyone ever heard of Angelina Jolie, Mia Farrow was an advocate for children at risk around the world, especially in Africa. She's just back from Darfur and joins Kyra Phillips live to talk about the crisis there.

"CNN NEWSROOM" returns at the top of the hour.

Meanwhile, YOUR WORLD TODAY continues after a quick break.

I'm Heidi Collins.



FRAZIER: A closer look now at Lebanon's industry minister Pierre Gemayel shot and killed in Beirut just hours ago.

Hala joins us now with more on his life, and legacy and his family, which goes back through several generations of public service. GORANI: Indeed, a political family, really. And used to political violence as well. His father, uncle, grandfather, leaving a major imprint on the political landscape there. Take a listen.


GORANI (voice-over): Shot at point-blank range in Beirut, prominent Lebanese anti-Syrian politician Pierre Gemayel, the latest in a spate of killings, targeting political and media figures opposed to Syrian influence in Lebanese politics. Pierre Gemayel, in his 30s, was the youngest member of parliament in Lebanon. The Maronite Christian first elected in 2000, and again in 2005.

Gemayel emerged as a vocal critic of Syria during the Cedar Revolution, which drove Syrian supporters from power after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last year. Pierre Gemayel was a third-generation Lebanese Christian politician. His grandfather, Pierre Gemayel, for whom he was named, founded the Phalange Party in Lebanon, which fought in the country's vicious sectarian war in the 1970s and '80s. His father, Amin (Gemayel, was president of Lebanon between 1982 and 1988.

Pierre Gemayel is not the first in his family to be murdered at the. At the height of the Lebanese civil war in 1982, his uncle Bashir Gemayel was assassinated less than a month after being president.

Well, the assassination is the latest in a string of attacks, as we said, in recent months. Let's give you the breakdown and some detail on that. The most prominent, of course -- and you see the pictures there on your screen -- the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last year. He and 22 others were killed in a truck bombing in Beirut.

Journalist Samir Kassir, opposed to Syria's role in Lebanon, also killed last year by car bomb. May Chidiac, a Christian TV journalist, was seriously wounded in a car bomb. Last December, newspaper magnate Gebran Tueni killed in a car bomb.


GORANI: Well, Pierre Gemayel is the first member of the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to be slain. We're of course following this story closely, and how it might impact the internal political landscape in Lebanon, whether or not there will be demonstration that will bring stability, change or more instability in that country in that coming hours of course.

For now, back to you Stephen.

FRAZIER: Hala, thank you very much. There are some people here now looking a little farther into the future, the energy future. It is predicted that we will have run out of fossil, such as oil and gas in 200 years time. And that will cause a climate calamity. Some people say it will be a lot sooner than that, but none of us will be around. For humanity sake, though, the world's most populated nations are planning for this dire prediction. They have now signed a deal to build a nuclear fusion reactor. It is a faraway dream, but the idea, Jim Bittermann tell us here, is to mimic the atomic reactions that actually power the sun and other stars.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a world where international cooperation on anything is often hard to come by, there was perhaps justification for the self-congratulatory applause. Representatives of half the world's population were pledging to work together to build the most ambitious fusion research reactor ever, in the south of France. President Jacques Chirac, who pushed hard for the agreement and the project, didn't hide his enthusiasm for the 10 billion euro, $12 billion installation.

JACQUES CHIRAC, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): We are duty bound to undertake the research which will prepare energetic solutions for our descendants. It is the hand we extend to the future generations in the name of solidarity and responsibility.

BITTERMANN: What will now be built with financial and technical help of 31 countries is the next generation of atomic reactors, based on nuclear fusion, the principle behind the sun's energy. If the predictions of scientists who've worked for decades on smaller-scale fusion reactors hold, the new large-scale reactor called Iter, the Latin for the path, will produce from a kilogram of fuel, the energy equivalent of 10,000 tons of coal, but without creating an greenhouse gas emissions.

But it's still a long way off. Construction work at the French site will take 10 years, and even the most optimistic promoters believe efficient and large-scale electricity production from fusion is 20 years away at best.

(on camera): Critics of the project, especially among environmentalist, say that spending vast amounts of money on an unproven technology is simply wasting time, that the resources could be better applied to renewable energy sources today, like wind, wave and solar power.

But the participating countries, including China and India, clearly believe the rewards will be great, from research that even developed nations feel is too big and too complex to handle alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we get out of it? We learn. We understand how to produce energy, if it's successful, from fusion.

BITTERMANN: As one signatory at the ceremony noticed, perhaps there's been some learning already, on how to put together agreements in a way that could serve as a model for other kinds of international cooperation in the future.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.


GORANI: Well, what was once perhaps a little more aimless has become definitely more deadly.

FRAZIER: Still ahead on YOUR WORLD TODAY, rocket attacks like this one -- the results here watching here -- causing much more concern in Israel. We'll tell you why.


GORANI: Welcome back to CNN International.

FRAZIER: Seen live in more than 200 countries across the globe, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY. And everybody's world today involves great fear of the situation in Lebanon. This morning following violence that will only increase tensions.

GORANI: The industry minister, Pierre Gemayel, 34 years-old, a vocal anti-Syrian voice in Lebanon gunned down today in Beirut, dying later in a hospital.

FRAZIER: Syria also involved in a diplomatic breakthrough, the picture on the left on your screen, that of the foreign ministers of Iraq and Syria who have renewed diplomatic ties following a 25-year rupture. More on all those coming.

FRAZIER: First, though, a stark warning in the battle against AIDS. There's new evidence that shows some countries are seeing a resurgence in new HIV infection rates, which were previously stable or even going down.

Globally, 39.5 million people are now infected with HIV. The virus has killed 25 million people since the first case was reported 25 years ago. And while the overall incidence rate has believed to have peaked in the late '90s, the infection rate is still growing in many parts of the world. India is one of those regions. It is the country with the greatest incidents now -- almost 6 million cases reported. And on Monday, the world's largest private anti-AIDS fund, warned that Indian efforts to curb the pandemic are failing and that the situation is on the brink of spiraling out of control.

GORANI: Well, to the Middle East again now. Police say gunmen abducted two Italian aid workers in Gaza. This just hours after Palestinian militants fired rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot during a visit by the U.N. high commissioner for human rights. Now concern over those rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza, it's growing. Ben Wedeman tells us why.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Almost daily, Hamas and other militant groups release videos like these. Showing rocket launches from Gaza into Israel. In the past week, missiles made in Gaza have killed one Israeli, a 57-year-old woman, and critically wounded several others in the town of Sderot near Gaza. Israeli defense experts worry that the rockets that once landed haphazardly are becoming ever more deadly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's definitely a step that they achieved in the past few weeks with accuracy and range. Now, it's quite in the face of the development of weapons because they learn from their mistakes.

WEDEMAN: Earlier this year, we gained access to a rocket workshop in Gaza. With cold professionalism, the chief engineer, who only went by the name Abu Ahmed (ph), explained step-by-step, how they produced the rockets. His group, the Axa (ph) Martyrs Brigades makes three kinds of rockets, the largest with range up to 14 kilometers, almost nine miles, packed with six kilograms, more than 13 pounds of high explosives. He claims his workshop makes about 50 rockets a week. Israeli officials say the improved rockets are part of an alarming military buildup in Gaza.

WEDEMAN (on camera): Israeli intelligence officials say that before the pull out from Gaza last year, they calculated the amount of explosives reaching Gaza from Egypt in terms of dozens of kilos. Now, they say tons of explosives, including TNT, C-4 and rocket propellant are being smuggled in.

(voice-over): And once hard to obtain technical information is now just a click way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The knowledge of how to produce a rocket is also there on the net. You only have to surf it.

WEDEMAN: Since this summer, several rockets have already hit farther afield in the coastal city of Ashkolan (ph) ten kilometers from Gaza, raising among the Israelis, the nightmare prospect that as the rockets improve in accuracy and range, southern Israel will undergo bombardment similar to that which paralyzed the north during the summer war with Hezbollah.

All of this increasing the pressure on the Israeli government to act quickly and effectively to put an end to the rocket attacks.

Ben Wedeman. CNN, Jerusalem.


GORANI: We're going to have a lot more of course on the assassination of that prominent anti-Syrian Christian politician in Lebanon.

FRAZIER: Stay with us. We'll be right back. Here is the scene of the assassination.


FRAZIER: Welcome back. We noted earlier that Syria has already come out and condemned the assassination in Lebanon today. The Syrian embassy in Washington has now elaborated in a statement it has released, which says that Syria "strongly condemns this heinous terrorist act and extends its condolences and prayers to the family of the deceased" Pierre Gemayel

And the statement goes on to strongly deny any Syrian involvement. It says, "This charade of blaming Syria for every malicious event in Lebanon has been exposed a long time ago and is simply losing all credibility."

GORANI: All right, let's go to Damascus, Syria, Rime Allaf, analyst with Chatham House joins us now on the line. Rime, I'm sure you saw that statement from the Syrian government. They're saying these accusations are losing all credibility. But some say it's the exact opposite. The more anti-Syrians are assassinated at point blank range on the streets of Beirut, the less credibility the Syrians have in terms of denying they're involved.

RIME ALLAF, ANALYST, CHATAM HOUSE: Absolutely, there's two schools of thought on the matter. You mentioned a very interesting point, precisely the way that Pierre Gemayel was assassinated today, it's completely different from the series of car bombs we've had throughout the past year, certainly beginning with the first assassination of Rafik Hariri.

The Syrians have been saying all the time that all of these assassinations have only hurt them, and indeed, they were were very rapidly forced to leave Lebanon after the assassination of Hariri. But, I think you know as analysts and as independent people, as we're looking at events unfolding, we have to remember that there is yet no smoking gun anywhere in any of the assassinations.

As for today, I think that we need to make a connection with what's happening, certainly with the Hariri tribunal, but also with the demonstrations that were hinted at by Hezbollah leaders (inaudible) who was sort of hinting that Thursday might be a big day. Obviously, this assassination now puts Hezbollah in a difficult position, and they will be -- it will be very difficult to bring up all these matters. I think you can argue both sides of the story, saying that it can help Syria or it can hurt Syria very much.

GORANI: Well, you say there's no smoking gun. But there is a trail and a trail of political assassinations that have all targeted both Christians and Sunnis strongly opposed to Syrian influence over Lebanese politics. It's just the logical conclusion to come to this conclusion, that either the Syrian government or agents within Lebanon who are close to Syria are involved?

ALLAF: Well, certainly, I mean, I've always argued as well that it's very difficult and that the Syrians should come out more rapidly in every case and show their cooperation. For example, with the Hariri killing, they were a little bit slow in showing that they had every intention in finding out who the killer. And that it was in their best interest to do so.

So the Syrian government has not always acted in its own best interests. But, again, it is all too easy, I think, to jump to conclusions and to think that just because every single one of them happen to be anti-Syria or pretty much taking a position against Syrian interests in Lebanon. This means necessarily that the Syrians had a hand in it.

I'll have to remind you, Hala, that there have been a number of attempts on Hezbollah members in the past. None of them have resulted in a killing. But there has certainly been a car bomb on the one member of Hezbollah whose name escapes me at this point in time.

The Syrian government will tell you, the official line is that precisely because every assassination has been against somebody who is against the influence to Lebanon, it just shows that it is not the Syrians who are doing it. This is the Syrian position. They're going to have to probably to do a little bit better to explain why this is happening. But without any doubt, the Syrians feel very strong right now in Lebanon and I think that in their point of view, they don't need to be conducting campaigns of interrogation.

GORANI: Rime, let me ask you a very straightforward question. Will these political assassinations lead to another civil war in Lebanon?

ALLAF: I would not think that civil war would necessarily entail from all of this, Hala. But I certainly think that there's been anyway a lot of tension that's come to a boiling point, following let's not forget the Israeli aggression on Lebanon in July and August.

All these issues have not been settled yet. People close to Hezbollah, including the movement of the general, feel that they've been less tired of the political spectrum and anyway things were going to change. And Hassan Nasrallah made it clear several times that they are not willing anymore to take a back seat.

So I don't think that we're going to come to civil war because most of the political leaders are clever enough to understand this will not be in Lebanon's interest and in their own interest. I think we have to expect that for the time being that there will be still some clashes, unfortunately.

GORANI: Yes, and we've heard the leaders. Even the father of Pierre, who was just assassinated today Amin Gemayel coming out saying don't react violently. That's very interesting. But here's the other question though, Rime. Maybe not a full-fledged civil war, but what about a coup? What about a cabinet crumbling? What about a government that can't sustain itself anymore?

ALLAF: Well, you know that's very possible. Again, Hala, even before this assassination, we saw that the government of Fouad Siniora was on the point of crumbling anyway because of the six ministers that have resigned.

CNN has been covering the story very well in the past few days. So in any case, things were coming to a dead end, and something has to give. It is doubtful that the assassination today, on top of course of the terrible tragedy that it is to have such a young and brilliant young man die, when you look at it analytically, it is very difficult to understand what gains this could have for anybody, any of the parties. It's a very murky situation right now. Passions are running high, that's why I would really like to wait before jumping to conclusions. I don't know who stands to gain from this. I don't know how the Syrians are going to gain from this and I don't know how the anti-Syrians are going to gain from this.

Right now, people are -- we're hearing that on the streets of Lebanon there has already been clashes. People are upset and they're angry. But the government was crumbling anyway. Sooner or later, I think that we have to remember that the forces of Hezbollah of Hassan Nasrallah, were demanding to play a bigger role in Lebanese politic politics, and I think that frankly this is where we're heading.

GORANI: Right, but here's the question, too. I mean, we're seeing really very strong reaction as a result of the assassination there of Pierre Gemayel. Is this going to be different? In other words, is this going to provoke something perhaps as passionate as we saw after the assassination of Rafik Hariri? It seems like it's taken on a different tone there, Rime?

ALLAF: It has. I agree with you, Hala. And of course this is the first time that a sitting official on the Lebanese government, in the Lebanese government has been assassinated. And you know the manner, again in broad daylight, you know, being gunned down -- technically the security services of the Lebanese government shouldn't have too much trouble in going after the perpetrators.

This is not the 1,000 kilos of dynamite or of explosives that we had at the time of Rafik Hariri. This is a new development, in my opinion. It's been about a year since we've had another tragic assassination. I think the last big one was Gibran Tueni, who was a member of parliament.

But to have a minister while things are so difficult within the government and amongst the different ministers, I think this certainly takes Lebanon to the brink of something new. I still don't think that there is going to be a civil war.

I think that everybody beginning with President Ile Lahoud is trying to calm the tensions and the passions because they know to what it could lead. And they look at their neighbors and they look certainly at Iraq, the example, being given. I don't think anybody is ready to lead their people down that road. But clearly, what is going to happen is a lot of the behind-the-scenes negotiating right now between people who are feeling very strong.

GORANI: Rime, I need to interrupt you because we have 90 seconds left and I'd like to tell the viewers that the U.S. President George Bush has reacted to the assassination of Mr. Gemayel on Tuesday calling for a full investigation into his death. As you said no jumping to conclusions, no smoking gun. The question though now is, in the next few weeks and months that unfold, will Lebanon be able to survive with the leadership that it had, Rime?

ALLAF: No, I don't think so. I think Fouad Siniora will have to give in a lot to the forces of General Holme (ph) and Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah in order to be able to continue running Lebanon. I don't think personally today that the government of Fouad Siniora is capable of continuing to govern Lebanon given that it doesn't hold the majority anymore. Very sadly because of an assassination today but also because of resignation. I think this is the situation.

GORANI: It is a sad day when sitting cabinet ministers can get shot at point blank in a capital. Rime Allaf in Damascus of Chatham House, thanks so much for your analysis.

FRAZIER: Just one more word about the president's comments as he addressed U.S. troops stationed in Hawaii. Everybody is saying don't jump to conclusions, but the "Associated Press" is quoting President Bush as saying Syria and Iran are trying to form an instability in that country.

GORANI: As it is being said, we're bringing it to you, absolutely. Thank you for being with us on YOUR WORLD TODAY. I'm Hala Gorani.

FRAZIER: And I'm Stephen Frazier. More coming, stay with us.



© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines