Calls for unity after Lebanon bomb death

Lebanese leaders urged for calm toady after the country's first political assasination in months threatened efforts to reconcile its divided factions.

The killing of Druse Sheik Saleh Aridi, a senior member of the Lebanese Democratic Party, came less than a week before planned reconciliation talks among rival Lebanese factions.

It was the first such assasination since an Arab-brokered agreement was reached after sectarian fighting in May involving Shiite Hizbollah militants and pro-government Sunni and Druse factions. That agreement led to the election of a new president and the formation of a national unity Cabinet.

Aridi died late yesterday in his village of Baissour in the Druse-populated hills east of Beirut, after a bomb planted under his car was detonated by remote control as he drove away from his home, police said. Six other people were injured.

The attack was thought by politicians to be an effort to rekindle violence between rivals in the sensitive Druse-inhabited mountains, areas controlled by the two main Druse factions — the Lebanese Democratic Party led by Talal Arslan and the Progressive Socialist Party of Walid Jumblatt.

The Druse are a small and secretive offshoot of Islam with communities in Lebanon, Syria and Israel. They are one of the historic founders of Lebanon.

The two Druse factions are also on opposite sides over Syria. Arslan is allied with the Syrian-backed Hizbollah, while Jumblatt is a prominent leader of the anti-Syrian camp. But the two have grown close in recent months, mostly with mediation by Aridi.

"This is a political blow par excellence," Arslan said today, after rushing back to Lebanon from a trip abroad. He said the perpetrators were targeting "unity and coexistence" among the Druse and Lebanon.

Jumblatt went to the village after the explosion to express solidarity and said those responsible were opposed to the recent reconciliation among political factions.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora contacted Druse leaders and joined their call for calm.