The general, Brig. Gen. Francois Hajj, “led a major military campaign against Islamic militants over the summer.”
“Car bomb attack in Lebanon kills 3,” by Sam F Ghattas for the Associated Press:
BEIRUT, Lebanon – A car bomb attack killed one of Lebanon’s top military generals and at least two others Wednesday, the military and state media said, putting even more pressure on the country’s delicate political situation.
The target of the attack, Brig. Gen. Francois Hajj, a top Maronite Catholic in the command, was considered a leading candidate to succeed the head of the military, Gen. Michel Suleiman, if Suleiman is elected president.
Hajj, 55, also led a major military campaign against Islamic militants over the summer.
The blast is the first such attack against the Lebanese army, which has remained neutral in Lebanon’s yearlong political crisis and is widely seen as the only force that can hold the country together amid the bitter infighting between parliament’s rival factions.
The political divisions have paralyzed the government and prevented the election of a president, leaving the post empty since Nov. 23 in a dangerous power vacuum. Under Lebanon’s sectarian division of political posts, the president must be a Maronite, like the army commander.
The slaying of Hajj and its timing amid the deadlock over the presidency raised immediate speculation over who was behind the bombing, which blasted Hajj’s SUV as he drove through a busy street of Baabda district.
Anti-Syrian politicians blamed Damascus, as they have for a string of bombings over the past two years that killed eight prominent opponents of Syria. Damascus has denied any role in those killings.
Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, speaking to Associated Press Television News, accused the “Syrian-Iranian axis” of hitting the military, “the only body in Lebanon who can balance the power of Hezbollah and other militias in the country.”
But the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah, which has good relations with the army, denounced the assassination. It called Hajj’s death a “great national loss” and praised the military’s “great national role” in preserving security.
Suspicion also fell on al-Qaida-inspired Sunni Muslim militants, whom the army crushed at the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared in northern Lebanon in an operation led by Hajj, a battle that cost hundreds of lives.
Hikmat Deeb, a leading member of Aoun’s opposition Free Patriotic Movement, said Hajj was “a hero of Nahr el-Bared,” suggesting the battle there was a factor in the assassination.