BEIRUT: Two aides to a Lebanese Druze minister were killed on Sunday when his convoy came under fire as it passed through a Mount Lebanon area loyal to a rival Druze faction.
Saleh Al-Gharib, Lebanon’s minister of state for refugee affairs, described the attack on his vehicle as “an armed ambush and a clear assassination attempt.”
“There appears to be a decision to blow up the situation on the Mountain,” he said.#BREAKING: Lebanese Cabinet minister says gunmen opened fire at his convoy in a mountain village near #Beirut, killing two people #Lebanonhttps://t.co/v2PiFcSrEv pic.twitter.com/wuetUMgDaA
— Arab News (@arabnews) June 30, 2019
The two men who died in the attack in the village of Basateen were ministerial escorts Samer Abu Faraj and Rami Salman. Two others were seriously wounded.
Al-Gharib is a member of the Lebanese Democratic Party, which is led by the pro-Syrian Talal Arslan.
The attack happened in an area of support for Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, an Arslan rival and opponent of the Assad regime. His Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) denied any involvement.
It was not clear who opened fire, but the area was tense Sunday as supporters of a party opposed to the Syrian government closed roads to prevent Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil — a Maronite Christian who is a political ally of Arslan — from touring the region.
The Lebanese are fiercely divided over the ongoing war in neighboring Syria.
The Lebanese army sent reinforcements to the area.
Bassil cancelled the visit, described as provocative by the PSP, because of the protests.
Akram Chehayeb, a senior PSP official and minister of education, also urged calm, saying: "What happened is the result of poor judgment by some officials and is a recipe for strife on the Mountain."
Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri made contacts with the Druze parties, security chiefs and Bassil "focused on the need to ease tension in Aley and to exert all efforts to calm the situation", his office said in a statement.
Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab told the broadcaster LBC the army had deployed heavily in the area and called for calm.
President Michel Aoun has called a meeting of Lebanese security chiefs on Monday, his office said.
Arslan supporters blocked a main highway south with burning tyres in protest over the incident, choking traffic for several hours.
The incident has reopened old wounds. In 1983, hundreds died in the “Mountain War” between Druze and Christian militias in the western Shahhar region.
“Blood has been shed again in Shahhar and the situation is now critical,” analyst Radwan Deeb told Arab News.
“No matter how hard the concerned political parties try to contain the incident, the matter is very dangerous because of the killing.
“People are prepared to go back to war. No one forgave anyone after the war, and the reconciliation process has not been completed because of the depth of the open wound.”