The car bomb that shook Beirut’s waterfront on the evening of June 13 was the sixth explosion in Lebanon in less than a month. But unlike the other bombings, which were intended more to instill fear than to cause serious damage, this one had a political target: Walid Eido, a member of the US-backed parliamentary majority. With the killing of one more legislator–the fifth in two years–Lebanon is hurtling toward yet another crisis.
The bomb, which was planted in a parked car, ripped through Eido’s black Mercedes as his motorcade left a swimming club where he played cards with friends almost every afternoon. The explosion resonated throughout Beirut, shattering windows 100 yards away and throwing body parts onto a nearby soccer field. It killed Eido, his son and eight other people. Within minutes, ambulances filled the Corniche, a palm-tree-lined boulevard that overlooks the Mediterranean and is often packed with people out for an evening stroll.
As soon as the bomb went off, dozens of young men rushed to the scene, and soldiers had to push them back from the burning cars. They gathered around two fire trucks, picking through twisted wreckage. Naim Chebbo, a 33-year-old waiter, ran for a half-mile from his restaurant, following the cloud of black smoke. Drenched in sweat and hyperventilating, he screamed, “Look at what the Syrians are doing to us! Don’t ask me why this bombing happened. Ask the Syrians!” He pointed up a hill, toward the headquarters of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. “I’m going to get the SSNP. I’m going to fuck them up!” he shrieked. “They’re just sitting up there laughing.” His friends restrained him from marching up the hill.
When Chebbo began insulting Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah–leader of Hezbollah, the Shiite political party and militia allied with Syria–calling him a “terrorist” and a “criminal,” a bystander told Chebbo to keep quiet. The two began shoving each other, and a dozen soldiers toting M-16s moved between them, at one point cocking their guns to shoot into the air. Soldiers finally managed to wrestle Chebbo away, and he walked off, still cursing.
This is the state of Lebanon today: deep sectarian anger that could boil over at any moment. In mixed Beirut neighborhoods, tensions rise between Sunnis and Shiites after each bombing. Tempers flare, small fights get out of hand, people start calling their friends and relatives to come in from other areas to help them and eventually the police have to step in. (A Shiite friend who lives in a mainly Sunni neighborhood told me that for several days after Eido’s killing, he found a broken egg each morning on his car.) And there’s no shortage of bombings to stoke tensions: On June 24 a car bomb exploded near a convoy of United Nations peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, killing six troops under Spanish command. It was the first attack on the UN force since it was expanded to 13,000 soldiers after last summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah. Some Lebanese politicians quickly blamed Syria for the bombing, but there is also evidence that Sunni militants tied to Al Qaeda have been plotting for months to attack UN peacekeepers in the south.