Robert Fisk: Despite floods of soldiers, assassinations still continue. No one is safe in Lebanon

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The Independent Online

No one is safe. The bits of bodies on the road, the blood - how dark it becomes an hour after it has lain upon the tarmac - and the incinerated cars, the broken railings through which Jibran Tueni's car was hurled into a pine-clustered ravine by the bomb; this is now the nature of Lebanon's war. Tueni was the editor of An Nahar - Lebanon's most prestigious newspaper - and a prominent MP, the son of a former Lebanese ambassador to the UN who received the Legion d'Honneur in Paris only last week. And Tueni, is pulverised, blown - as we used to say at school - to smithereens, only hours before the UN's investigation, headed by Detlev Mehlis, into ex-premier Rafiq Hariri's murder is expected to lay blame at Syria's door. And Tueni is an enemy of Syria. Only days ago, he demanded that Syria be taken to the international court at The Hague for executing Lebanese soldiers 15 years ago.

Ah yes, how many times must we be told that these Lebanese assassinations are not to Syria's benefit? The "moamara", the "plot", means that the Israelis killed Tueni to embarrass the Syrians, that the Americans wanted to get rid of so free-thinking a Lebanese (Greek Orthodox, as every Lebanese - who knows his sectarian dictionary - knows) now that the Syrian army has left. No, perhaps it was not President Bashar Assad of Syria, but what about the Baath party intelligence which most Lebanese suspect murdered Hariri on 14 February this year?

Standing on the narrow mountain road yesterday morning, the smoke still rising from the carbonised motorcade, the darkening blood still wet on the ground - how many times must I and Lebanese friends come back from these fearful places and wash, rather than brush, our shoes on the doormat - there were obvious lessons. This is a war. I repeat to myself: no-one is safe. Lebanon has tens of thousands of troops, thousands of cops and intelligence men and forensic scientists. They were there in their hundreds at Mkalles yesterday morning, patrolling, searching for bomb parts amid the pine forest, when they, and the reporters, should have been ordering cheese "manaouche" - sandwiches - from local shops and enjoying new freedoms.

But now what are they for, these thousands of soldiers? They can protect no-one. Or so it seems. Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, should, of course, have addressed the nation after so callous a crime. But there was only silence. In parliament, Marwan Hamade, the telecommunications minister who was also Tueni's uncle - he was himself badly wounded in a car bomb attack in October of last year - called for an investigation into all of Lebanon's prominent assassinations (messers Kemal Jumblatt, Bashir Gemayel, Rashid Karami, Grand Mufti Khaled, Danny Chamoun, Rafiq Hariri et al) to be investigated by an international tribunal. Some hope. Just over an hour after the assassination of Tueni - father of four, a one-time spokesman for the messianic General Michel Aoun - Hamadi turned up in shades, weeping, to see the place where his nephew died. "It's a new crime for Lebanon - there's nothing else to say," he snapped at us as we stood amid the blood. Later, he was to be more cold-blooded, blaming the "dictatorial hegemony" of Bashar Assad. "... if the Syrians want it this way, we know how to respond." How?

One looked at the oh-so-peaceful pine stands, the smouldering cars, the new forensic policemen with their equally new black ponchos, the leathered-jacketed cop sweeping what might have been a detonator into a bag, and at once asked the obvious question: Tueni had returned from his self-exile in Paris only a few hours earlier, he had taken a narrow mountain road to avoid the morning traffic after leaving home, a "secure" road, of course, and yet someone knew he was on that road, had been primed - perhaps weeks ago - to prepare this crime, and must have had the bomb and his victim with line of sight - from the tall white building to the east, perhaps - who could detonate the car bomb at the moment Tueni's armoured limousine passed. Just five feet separated Tueni from the bomb. Smithereens.

Mehlis' report should have ended these assassinations, dampened the spirit of Lebanon's Murder Inc - or Syria's Murder Inc - and sent the assassins to their lairs. But they are still fully operational. We realised this when Samir Kassir, a prominent anti-Syrian-regime journalist, was murdered shortly after Hariri. Then we had the old former head of the Lebanese communist party, George Hawi, the attempt on the life of May Chidiac, another leading anti-Baathist reporter.

But then came the "suicide" of Brigadier General Ghazi Kenaan, the Syrian interior minister - did he know too much? Was he about to tell all to Mehlis' boys? - and the murder prestige quotient rose again. If Kenaan, why not Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader, who only on Sunday learned of a planned bomb attack against him on a road in the Chouf mountains? Or Samir Geagea, the former Christian Maronite militia leader? Or General Michel Aoun, who led a futile "independence" war against Syria 15 years ago? Or? Who?

The car bomb yesterday contained around 40 kilograms of explosives and tossed Tueni's car into the ravine, killing at least seven men. There was an anonymous phone caller who claimed to represent "the Strugglers for Unity and Freedom in Damascus" who announced that "he who contemplates attacking those who have sacrificed everything for the sake of Arabism and Lebanon will face the same fate".

But anyone can make a phone call. Like anyone can be murdered in Lebanon.

"He was an arrogant man but this was not the way," one of Hariri's supporters said within an hour of Tueni's death. Arrogant but brave - or should it be, in Lebanon these days, brave but arrogant? Tueni sounded unhinged when he supported Aoun in 1990. But as editor of An Nahar - he was Kassir's boss - he was an intellectual. As Ghassan Tueni's son, he was the beloved son of a press empire.

It is now Syrian practice to announce that those who commit such crimes are the enemies of Lebanon. Yesterday afternoon, the Syrian information minister, Mehdi Daklallah, denied his government's involvement, saying that "those who are behind this are the enemies of Lebanon".