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Anti-Syrian lawmaker killed in Lebanon blast

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: U.N condemns attack; Syria denies involvement
  • White House: Bomb intended to intimidate supporters of Lebanese democracy
  • Lebanese official calls killing "a bloody message" just before elections
  • Lawmaker Antoine Ghanem, at least 4 others, killed in Beirut blast
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- A massive bombing in Beirut on Wednesday killed anti-Syrian Lebanese parliamentarian Antoine Ghanem and at least four others, a high-ranking Lebanese official confirmed to CNN.

A car burns at the site of a bombing that killed a Lebanese lawmaker in Beirut on Wednesday.

Ghanem was a Christian Maronite and a member of Lebanon's Phalange Party, which is known to take an anti-Syrian stance. He is believed to have been the target of the attack.

Fellow parliamentarian Walid Jumblatt, head of Lebanon's Progressive Socialist Party, called the killing "a bloody message," as it comes ahead of elections and will reduce the parliamentary majority from 69 to 68, preventing them from electing "a free president for Lebanon."

Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., citing internal security forces, reported nine people were killed and 40 wounded in the attack.

Former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel expressed his sadness, saying Ghanem was a "very close friend of mine," and adding that his death will have political implications.

He said Ghanem's assassination is "very, very dangerous for the future of democracy in Lebanon."

Gemayel's son Pierre, a Lebanese anti-Syrian parliamentarian, was assassinated last November.

In a written statement, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack but urged restraint "at this critical time."

The White House said it strongly condemned Ghanem's killing, immediately labeling it as a politically motivated assassination.

"Since October of 2004, there has been a pattern of political assassinations and attempted assassinations designed to intimidate those working courageously toward a sovereign and democratic Lebanon," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, reading a prepared statement.

"The victims of these cowardly attacks have consistently been those who publicly sought to end Syria's interference in Lebanon's internal affairs."

"It is no coincidence that this attack comes as Lebanon prepares to elect a new president," the statement continued.

Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh accused Syria of "using its terrorist skills to assassinate" MPs in an attempt to impose Syrian authority in Lebanon.

But an unidentified source with the state-run SANA news agency, which speaks for the Syrian government, condemned the killing. "This criminal act targets the efforts and endeavors exerted by Syria and others to achieve the Lebanese national accord," the source told SANA.

The huge explosion ripped through the upscale Christian neighborhood of Horsh Tabet in east Beirut, killing Ghanem and four others and wounding 20, according to the Red Cross and a high-ranking government official. Video See the aftermath of the bombing »

The powerful blast erupted into a huge fireball and damaged dozens of cars as they filled the streets at 5 p.m. (10 a.m. ET). Buildings were heavily damaged, and broken glass littered the street.

A short time after the explosion, Lebanese security forces patrolled the streets as a large crowd gathered.

The massive blast is an all-too-familiar scene in Beirut.

Three months ago, anti-Syrian parliament member Walid Eido was killed along with nine others -- including his son and two bodyguards -- in a huge explosion in western Beirut.

Most notorious was the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose killing in Beirut sparked widespread protests that led to the ouster of Syrian forces from Lebanon.


United Nations investigators concluded last year that Hariri's death may be linked to high-ranking Syrian officials.

Syria has denied any involvement in the killings and said the U.N. tribunal investigating Hariri's death is a violation of its sovereignty. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Nada Husseini and Octavia Nasr contributed to this report.

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