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Cablegate: Lebanon: Shooting in Zahle Kills Two Phalange Members

VZCZCXRO3570
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0540 1121429
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 211429Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1586
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS BEIRUT 000540

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: SHOOTING IN ZAHLE KILLS TWO PHALANGE MEMBERS

SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) On April 20, two members of former President Amine Gemayel's
Phalange party ("Kataeb") were killed and two others wounded during
a shooting incident at a party branch office. During an
inauguration ceremony for the new office, two Zahle residents,
followers of MP Elie Skaff (who is allied with Free Patriotic
Movement Michel Aoun) became angry when they were purportedly
stopped by roadblocks from passing through near the office. They
returned later in the evening and shot at Phalange party members.
The security services are pursuing the suspects and the cousin of
one suspect turned himself in to the Internal Security Force. This
intra-Christian incident indicates mounting political tension. End
summary.

2. (U) On April 20, two members of former President Amine Gemayel's
Phalange party ("Kataeb") were shot dead and two others were injured
in a shooting that took place at the inauguration of a Phalange
branch office in Zahle. While press accounts vary somewhat, it
appears that road blocks were set up during a ceremony to open the
office. Joseph Zouki and his brother, followers of MP Elie Skaff
(an ally of Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun and rival of
Gemayel), who live on the same street in Zahle, were upset when
barred from entry by the Internal Security Forces (ISF). Returning
after the roadblock was removed, they shot at Phalange party
members, killing two and wounding two others.

3. (SBU) Press reports indicate that the security services have
launched a massive manhunt for the suspected killers. Zouki, who
has a prior criminal record and has served time in jail, is still at
large, and his cousin has turned himself into the ISF. It is not
yet confirmed whether his cousin was at the Phalange office when the
crime occurred.

4. (U) The Phalange party issued a statement noting that the
shooting took place shortly after Sami Gemayel, son of Amine, left
the inauguration. Amine Gemayel immediately summoned members of the
party's politburo at his mansion in Bikfaya to discuss the attack.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora telephoned Gemayel and offered his
condolences. Siniora also made phone calls to ISF DG Ashraf Rifi
and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander Michel Suleiman asking
them to intensify their search efforts and to arrest the culprits.

5. (U) Gemayel called for restraint and calm and urged the
government as well as the security authorities to bring the culprits
to justice without delay. "The criminal is not Shaker al-Absi. He
is known. We demand the government and the security forces put
their hands on the criminals as soon as possible," Gemayel added.

6. (SBU) In a telephone conversation with the Charge, Gemayel said
he suspected that the culprit had crossed the border into Syria and
added that this attack was clearly pre-meditated and he expects more
violence before the issue is resolved. Gemayel said he has been
publicly calling for calm, but added that it should be Skaff's
people calling for calm because "We are the victims."

7. (SBU) For his part, MP Skaff denounced the shooting and
telephoned Amine Gemayel to offer his condolences. Skaff, who
blamed the overall political tension in the country, told us on
April 21 "the Phalange party as well as the Lebanese Forces have
been carrying out provocative measures against my supporters for
more than two years and unfortunately all of my warnings and efforts
to contain the situation have fallen on deaf ears."

COMMENT
-------

8. (SBU) This is the most violent attack since the January 27 Mar
Mikhael riots. This incident occurred between two Christian rival
parties. Surprisingly, this attack was carried out by Skaff's
supporters. Skaff is not known for harboring trouble-makers and
thugs. However, this incident will leave its mark on Skaff's
popularity in his hometown Zahle. End comment.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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