A warrior family beset by tragedy

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The Independent Online

The Gemayel family look like the Kennedys of Lebanon. Like the American dynasty, they are wealthy and glamorous and have produced leaders. They have also been cursed with assassination. Yesterday, with the killing of Pierre Gemayel, the 30-year-old Industry Minister and son of a former president, the family again paid with its blood.

His uncle, Bashir Gemayel, was blown apart at the age of 34 in a car bomb nine days before he was to be sworn in as President in 1982. His 18-month-old daughter, Maya, was killed two years before that in a car bomb destined for him.

But the comparison with the Kennedys ends there. For the Gemayel men were born into a nation of warlords, hailing from the Maronite Christian minority hardened by civil war.

The patriarch, Pierre Gemayel, grandfather of the Industry Minister, studied pharmacology in Europe. He founded the Phalange Party in 1936, also known as Kataeb. It swelled to 40,000 members.

Although he became a Lebanese minister, and was targeted in at least two assassination attempts, Pierre Gemayel never rose to the prominence of his sons. But he remained a powerful figure until his death in 1984.

His son, Bashir Gemayel, came to the fore as Phalangist militia leader during the Lebanese civil war that exploded in 1975. But he was assassinated in a huge explosion, at party headquarters in September 1982, which killed 25 other people, less than a month after he was elected President and soon after he agreed to open diplomatic ties with Israel. His elder brother, Amin, became President in September 1982, remaining in office until the end of his constitutional second term in 1988. Amin's son Pierre, an outspoken critic of Syria, was elected to parliament in 2000 as a member of the Phalange party.