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Lebanon Buries Slain Army Commander

By Edward Yeranian
14 December 2007

Lebanon's feuding political leaders joined in Friday's funeral of Brigadier General Francois al Hajj, honoring the late army officer who was killed in a car-bomb on the outskirts of Beirut Wednesday. Hajj is the ninth top figure to be assassinated since 2005 and the third in six months, as Edward Yeranian reports for the VOA from Beirut.

Lebanese united to bury a fallen hero in a ceremony that brought together feuding politicians who have not spoken to each other in weeks.

Army Commander Michel Suleiman, former President Amine Gemayel and opposition leader General Michel Aoun sat together in the front pew of a Maronite church on a mountaintop outside Beirut.

A torrential downpour added to the somber mood as normally stoic military officers wiped tears from their eyes.

Friends, family and well-wishers threw rose petals at the late general's coffin, draped in the Lebanese flag, as a military honor guard carried it through the crowd.

Hajj was killed, Wednesday, by a car bomb that pulverized his vehicle as he was being driven to Lebanon's Defense Ministry. The general had been widely expected to be the next commander of the Lebanese Army.

Lebanon's Maronite Christian Patriarch, Mar Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, eulogized the slain officer. He called General Hajj's death "an immense tragic loss," adding that the entire nation had "drowned in savagery."

General Hajj was the ninth major figure to be assassinated since former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was killed in February 2005 in a massive car bomb explosion.

At least ten other attempted assassinations have targeted political figures, journalists and union leaders, most of whom were opponents of Syria's involvement in Lebanon.

Many Lebanese politicians have blamed Syria for the assassinations, a charge Damascus denies.

The authorities have detained three Lebananese individuals in the southern port city of Sidon, who reportedly have ties to a militant Palestinian group. General Hajj played a key role in the army's offensive against al-Qaida inspired militants at a Palestinian refugee camp north of Beirut earlier this year.

The general's death comes at a critical time in Lebanon's history, as the country struggles without a president, and the army attempts to maintain order after presidential elections were postponed repeatedly.

Rival political parties have agreed to nominate Army Chief General Michel Suleiman for the presidency. But they have been haggling over other issues and have now set a vote for December 17.

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