Pierre Gemayel, an anti-Syrian politician and scion of Lebanon's most prominent Christian family, was gunned down Tuesday in an assassination that heightened tensions amid a showdown between opponents and allies of Syria that threatens to topple the U.S.-backed government.
Gemayel, 34, was the fifth anti-Syrian figure to be killed in the past two years and the first member of the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to be slain. A car rammed his vehicle from behind and then a gunman stepped out and shot him at point-blank range, his Phalange Party radio station and Lebanon's official news agency reported.
Footage from the scene showed Gemayel's car, the driver's-side window dotted by about a dozen bullet holes, and the second car behind it with a crumpled hood.
The assassination, in an afternoon shooting in Gemayel's mainly Christian constituency of Jdeideh, threatens further instability in Lebanon at a time when Hezbollah and other parties allied with Syria are planning massive street protests unless Saniora reforms his government to give them more power.
And why is Hezbollah demanding a greater share of power? Because of their "success" in battling Israel this summer. Here's the rundown: we gave the green light to Israel to pursue their short-sighted bombing campaign and ground offensive in Lebanon, Israel failed to destroy Hizbollah as they vowed to, Hizbollah is now stronger because of it, and this has helped to reverse the declining influence of Syria in Lebanon. No one knows who committed this killing and Syria has condemned it, but this is a clear sign that Syria's influence is not weakening, but has only grown.
Update: More on the consequences of this assassination (via War & Piece).
Update II: This could be worse than initially feared. Whoever orchestrated the attack on Gemeyal was probably behind this one here, and may have been trying to bring down the government (via Obsidian Wings.) I may think the Bush administration has made a hash of our Middle East foreign policy, and I know that Iraq gives us little leverage over Syria, but I sincerely hope that the powers-that-be make it clear in no uncertain terms that we will not at all tolerate Syrian attempts to put Hezbollah in power over the will of the Lebanese people.
Update III: There is also the risk of internal conflict:
Mr Gemayel's death will further destabilise an already precarious political situation. He was a leading member of the Christian Phalange Party, which is heavily armed and will now be out for blood. While the identity of his assassins is unknown, the finger of suspicion inevitably points towards Damascus. That could put the Phalange on a bloody collision course with Hizbollah, Syria's client political (and terrorist) grouping in Lebanon.