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Lebanon in 3 Days of Mourning for Pierre Gemayal

Lebanon is in the midst of three days of mourning for slain Lebanese politician Pierre Gemayel, whose assassination Tuesday could threaten the country's fragile democracy. The prominent politician was buried on Thursday. As VOA's Jim Bertel reports Tuesday's killing could have implications beyond Lebanon's borders.

World leaders are condemning the assassination of anti-Syrian Cabinet Minister Pierre Gemayal, who was gunned down Tuesday in a Beirut suburb. Amr Moussa, the Secretary of the Arab League, expressed his sorrow at the killing and joined other world leaders in appealing to the Lebanese people for calm. Anti-Syrian Lebanese leaders are blaming Syria for the attack. Syria has denied any involvement.

The United States called the killing an act of terrorism and intimidation against Lebanon's elected government. On Wednesday President Bush phoned Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and pledged to support Lebanese independence from, what the White House called, the encroachments of Iran and Syria. But the president stopped short of blaming either government for the killing.

Gemayal's death only deepens the political crisis surrounding Lebanon's government, which was severely weakened after the month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel in southern Lebanon earlier this year.

Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East scholar at Sarah Lawrence College in the eastern state of New York believes Tuesday's attack was an attempt to further destabilize Lebanon's fragile democracy. "The killing of Pierre Gemayal pours gasoline on an already raging fire. And it puts Lebanon that much closer to a major civil war."

But Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at The Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, says rather than being a decisive turning point, it is just one more sign of how troubled Lebanon is.

"That means we obviously have to work to help it recover economically from the summer war. It also means we have to keep pressuring Syria to keep its hands off [Lebanon]. I'm not sure we have any ability to stop that but we should certainly be supporting intelligence efforts to try to figure out Syria's role and then hold them accountable if they are in fact guilty. Those are the sorts of policy tools we have,” said O’Hanlon. “But they are really the same ones we would have been thinking of using, or should have been thinking of using, even last week before this assassination."

Gemayel's killing comes amid a power struggle between Prime Minister Siniora's government and pro-Syrian factions led by Hezbollah over a U.N.-backed tribunal to investigate the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Bush administration says it will seek to add Gemayel's murder to the list of cases to be prosecuted by the tribunal.