UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Saturday to express his deepest condolences for the loss of life after the deadly car bombing in Beirut on Friday, according to a UN statement. Ban Ki-moon had already condemned the attack on Friday.
The bombing killed at least eight people and wounded another 78 on Friday in the mainly Christian east Beirut in the first such attack in the Christian district of Ashrafieh in the capital, the National News Agency reported.
The bombing drew condemnation from abroad, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling it a "dangerous sign that there are those who continue to seek to undermine Lebanon's stability."
Ban Ki-moon called on Friday for all political players in the domestically-turbulent state to "maintain their commitment to Lebanese unity."
"At a time of regional turbulence, it is of the utmost importance that all parties ensure calm and restraint in order to preserve peace and stability in Lebanon," the Secretary-General’s spokesperson said in a statement published on the UN News Centre’s website.
In a press statement, the members of the Security Council echoed the Secretary-General’s appeals to the Lebanese people to uphold national unity in the face of such intimidation and violence and continue engaging in the pursuit of the so-called National Dialogue under the leadership of President Michel Suleiman.
The Council members expressed their determination to support Lebanon’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice and urged all states to cooperate with the Lebanese authorities in this regard.
On the anti-Syria General killed in the car bomb
This is the most high-profile car bombing since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war; topped only by a car bombing on 14 February, 2005 when a massive blast killed former premier Al-Hariri and 22 other people as his motorcade drove along the waterfront.
General Wissam Al-Hassan, killed in the powerful car bomb set off in Beirut on Friday, is to be buried Sunday alongside Lebanon's beloved assassinated premier, Rafiq Hariri.
General Wissam Al-Hassan, a senior commander in the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, suspected the Syrian regime of murdering Al-Hariri. The grey-moustached general, 47, a Sunni Muslim, had sent his wife and children to Paris because he "knew he was a target," a Lebanese opposition leader hostile to Al-Assad’s regime told AFP.
His master stroke was the 9 August arrest, in which the Internal Security Forces (ISF) played a central role, of former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha, suspected of planning attacks in Lebanon's north at the behest of Syrian intelligence official Ali Mamlouk.
Damascus had already been the suspect, in Al-Hassan mind, not only for Al-Hariri's assassination in 2005 but also for the series of murders throughout the following three years of anti-Syria figures in Lebanon. His ISF waged a campaign seeking to arrest the killers.
The bombing comes at a time of high tensions and divisions in Lebanon as a result of the conflict in Syria, where more than 20,000 mostly civilians have died since the eruption of the 19-month uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad.
Lebanon and analysts fear a spillover into its borders that might shake the delicate sectarian balance in the country.
Day of mourning and protests
Saturday was declared a day of mourning.
The anti-Syrian opposition, led by Al-Hariri's son, Saad, called for a massive turnout for the funeral, which will be held after Muslim prayers at the Al-Amine Mosque in the capital's centre.
Protesters blocked some roads in Beirut, Sidon in the south, Tripoli in the north and the Bekaa Valley in the east. In some cases, they burned tyres.
The site, a mass of rubble and twisted metal, remained blocked off as investigators sifted through the damage.
A bit on the politics of it all
The cabinet went into emergency session mid-morning to discuss the fallout from the bombing after key opposition groups called on the government to step down.
"The government must leave and we call on Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign immediately," Ahmad Hariri, secretary general of the anti-Assad Future movement, said on Friday night.
In keeping with a complex power-sharing arrangement in multi-confessional Lebanon, the premier is always a Sunni Muslim. But parliament and the government are dominated by the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah - an Assad ally.
Mikati's office said the "size and tragic consequences of this heinous crime is a source of severe pain and sadness to the prime minister."
Soon after the bombing, Syria condemned what it called a "terrorist, cowardly" attack.
But both Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, the influential Druze leader, accused the Syrian president of being behind the bombing.
Hezbollah said the attack was "an attempt to destabilise Lebanon and national unity."
Also in Tripoli, gun battles broke out after the office of pro-Hezbollah Sunni party Tawhid came under rocket fire. A Sunni sheikh and party member, Abed Al-Razzak Al-Asmar, was killed in the crossfire, a security official said.