A car bomb explosion rocked the Manara district of western Beirut late this afternoon, killing Future Movement MP Walid Eido, his eldest son, Khaled, two of the Eidos’ bodyguards and six civilians. At least 10 others were wounded in the blast.
Eido, 65, was a leading member of Saad Hariri’s Future parliamentary bloc and chairman of parliament’s defense committee. An outspoken member of the majority anti-Syrian March 14 alliance, Eido highly critical of the six ministers who resigned from government in November 2006, launching the current political entente in Lebanon, and recently made headlines for calling for the establishment of a Winograd-style inquiry for Lebanon into last summer’s war between Hezbollah and Israel.
The bomb detonated around 5:30 pm on a side street between the Nejmeh Football Club and the Luna Park amusement center along Beirut’s Corniche, a seaside road dotted with tourist and family destinations such as beach resorts, hotels, and cafés.
LBCI reported that the explosion threw the bodies of both Eido and his son some 30 meters away onto the grounds of the Nejmeh club.
Employees of Luna Park sat, stunned and bloodied, as police created a human cordon around the blast area. A store called “Chinese Permanent Exhibition,” in front of the Luna Park’s iconic Ferris wheel, bore the brunt of the blast. Its interior was hollowed out and blackened by the explosion. Across the street, at the Mediterranée Hotel, workers quickly set to work sweeping up the broken glass from the explosion and fixing structural damage to the building.
“I was here 15 minutes after the explosion,” said Mohammad Salaam, whose uncle works at one of the small stores lining Luna Park. “My uncle helped drag out people at the Chinese Exhibition, he gave them water and checked to see if they were injured.”
Charles, who was sitting at a nearby café when the explosion occurred, recalled the moment the bomb detonated: “It was a major explosion, everyone ducked down,” he said.
“Mothers started grabbing their children, and gathering in groups to decide what to do,” added his companion, Kristin. “It was such a beautiful day … I heard they found body parts in our café.”
The explosion took place near to the military beach resort. “The army was right there, they came down within one minute,” said Charles. The army’s first action was to try to find the owners of the cars still in the area, and get them out. Charles compared it favorably to response times during the string of bombings in 2005, which he recalled as much slower. “I was amazed by the professionalism. In 10 minutes, they put out the fuel fire from the burning car, and the smoke turned from black to white.”
Shortly after the news of the attack, dozens of angry youths closed roads and burned tires in Verdun, close to Eido’s house. Back in Manara, a group of young men gathered peacefully around the site of the explosion, brandishing a large Future Youth flag. “We are not terrorists, we want to live in peace and find out who killed Rafik Hariri,” declared Naim, the young man carrying the flag. “This is the most beautiful place in Lebanon, this is a place for people to swim and relax,” he said, shaking his head. He declined to name who he thought was responsible for the attacks, simply rolling his eyes and quipping, “You tell me.”
Alaa, a Jordanian visiting Lebanon, was staying close to Manara when the explosion occurred. “I came down to see what is wrong,” she told NOW Lebanon. As for what will happen next in Lebanon? “God knows,” sighed Alaa.
“I felt [the explosion],” she said. “The house started shaking. It felt like a very big one.” She paused. “It is a bad feeling. The worst feeling.”
Eido is the third member of the parliamentary majority to be assassinated via car bomb since the current parliament was elected in May 2005. Although the blast comes amid a string of bombings and grenade attacks in Lebanon in the past month, Eido’s assassination is the first political killing since November 21, when Metn MP and member of the March 14th movement Pierre Gemayel was assassinated.
The death of Walid Eido reduces the March 14 alliance’s parliamentary majority to 68 out of 126 MPs total. Although the parliament was originally made up of 128 deputies, by-elections to fill Gemayel’s seat have been blocked by pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. It is believed to be unlikely that Lahoud will adopt a different position vis-à-vis the seat vacated by Eido. With the margin between pro-government forces and the opposition narrowing in parliament, many government supporters are speculating that further deputies may yet be assassinated in order to whittle down the majority in advance of next fall’s highly-charged presidential elections.
For the time being, fear and grief have once again enveloped the nation.