BEIRUT, Lebanon – A car bomb exploded in central Beirut on Friday, wounding a former Lebanese Cabinet minister in an assassination attempt, top Lebanese and Syrian officials said. The explosion also killed the politician's driver and seriously wounded his bodyguard.
Former Economy Minister Marwan Hamadeh (search), a Lebanese lawmaker who opposed efforts to grant pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud (search) a three-year extension, suffered minor injuries to his face and hands, his brother, Ali Hamadeh, told The Associated Press.
Marwan Hamadeh belongs to a bloc of parliamentarians led by Druse leader Walid Jumblatt (search), who withdrew Hamadeh from Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri's (search) Cabinet last month to protest the extension of Lahoud's presidential term.
Neighboring Syria, which has based thousands of troops in Lebanon since the early stages of the 1975-1990 civil war, is the main power broker here. That war killed more than 150,000 people.
The United States and United Nations opposed Syria's perceived interference in Lebanon and called for the election of a new Lebanese president. Washington also has demanded that Damascus withdraw Syrian soldiers from Lebanon.
"The Syrian leadership and President Bashar Assad (search) were greatly shocked with the news of the attempt to assassinate brother and friend Marwan Hamadeh," Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam said after visiting Hamadeh at the American University Hospital in Beirut.
Syria's official SANA news agency quoted an unnamed Information Ministry official as saying: "It seems clear that Lebanon's enemies are seeking to stir up turmoil and undermine security and stability in it."
Hariri, who was in Paris when informed about the attack, urged Lebanese to "thwart all attempts to stir up sedition and dissension."
"The criminal and condemned attempt to assassinate ... Hamadeh comes in the context of these (sedition) attempts," Hariri said in a statement released by his office.
Lahoud, the Lebanese president, condemned the bombing and ordered security and judicial authorities to investigate.
The 33-pound bomb, placed in a booby-trapped vehicle, exploded as Hamadeh's car drove past it in a side street about 100 yards from Beirut's seafront corniche. The American Community School and the International College, both U.S. organizations, are located in the same area.
The blast damaged several parked cars and shattered windows in nearby buildings, showering the street in broken glass. Police sealed off the area as firefighters extinguished a fire caused by the blast.
Hamadeh was taken to the hospital in a stable condition. His driver, Ghazi Abu Karoum, was killed and a bodyguard sitting in the back seat, Osama Abdel Samad, was seriously injured.
Ali Hamadeh said the ex-Cabinet minister was the blast's target.
"It (the bombing) is a political message to those who are trying to open bridges among (Muslim and Christian) Lebanese and break down barriers," Ali Hamadeh, a political analyst with Lebanon's leading An-Nahar newspaper, told the AP.
He was apparently referring to Jumblatt's efforts to align himself with Christian opposition groups to reject Lahoud's Syrian-backed presidential extension.
Jumblatt, a former warlord and Cabinet minister, is an ally of Syria, but his relations with Damascus deteriorated after he withdrew Hamadeh and two other ministers from Lebanon's Cabinet.
After visiting Hamadeh at Beirut's American University Hospital, Jumblatt said the bombing targeted "national peace and internal stability."
He declined to blame anyone for the attack before the investigations were completed.