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Attacks on journalists condemned

[Lebanon] Destruction caused by the bombing in Beirut has cost traders thousands of dollars.
Bombings in predominantly Christian areas of Lebanon and attacks on individuals have shocked the nation. (Mohammed Azakir/IRIN)

Lebanese journalists, shocked by a bomb that seriously injured a television talk show host on Sunday, have condemned the increasing attacks on their colleagues, as well as writers and intellectuals.

However, they said they were determined to stay true to their principles and to report freely and independently.

TV journalist May Chidiac had her left leg and hand amputated yesterday, after a bomb hidden under the driver’s seat exploded as she started her car. Chidiac is an anchorwoman and talk show host for the Lebanese Broadcasting Company (LBC), a TV station which ranks among the region’s most popular.

“The general mood at the newspaper is one of horror and sadness,” said Abdo Chakhtoura, managing director at L’Orient le Jour, one of Lebanon's leading newspapers.

“May Chidiac is a colleague and we feel for her. However, physically we may feel threatened, yet that does not deter us from our cause. We are determined not to go back to the old ways. We cherish our freedom.”

Just hours before the explosion, Chidiac had hosted a programme on possible Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on 14 February.

“Naturally we strongly condemn the attack,” said Georges Skaff, vice-president of the Lebanese Press Syndicate. “What bothers us most is that we don’t have any indication of who is behind it. One thing is certain. They may attempt to frighten us, but they will fail, because this will only strengthen us in our conviction to fight for liberty and sovereignty.”

Sunday’s attack on Chidiac is the latest in a string of bomb attacks that have rocked Beirut and its suburbs ever since the Syrian retreat from Lebanon last April. Explosions predominantly targeted Christian residential and commercial areas, as well as prominent anti-Syrian voices.

Samir Kassir, a journalist for the Lebanese daily al-Nahar newspaper, who was generally regarded as one of Lebanon’s leading intellectuals, was killed on 2 June by a bomb that also detonated with the car’s ignition. The same is true for Georges Hawi, the former head of the Lebanese communist party and a strong advocate of Lebanese independence. Hawi was killed on 21 June.

“Chidiac was not a leading intellectual,” said Michael Karam, editor of Lebanese business monthly Executive. “But she was the face of LBC and as such reached millions of people. In that sense, it seems a symbolic attack.”

Following the death of Kassir, L’Orient le Jour took measures to protect its employees. Known as fervently critical of Syria, the French language daily employed a number of security guards and installed video cameras around the paper’s main premises in downtown Beirut.

According to Chakhtoura however, it is impossible to protect every individual journalist both in and outside the office.

“Everyone takes his own measures,” said Chakhtoura. “But we should not forget, it is not just journalists who are threatened. Everyone is, from politicians to civilians. A bomb explosion on 16 September killed one person and wounded 20 others in the heart of a popular residential area in Beirut.”

Asked about who he thinks is behind the series of bomb attacks, he replied cynically: “Who do you think? Nicaragua?”

According to al-Nahar newspaper, there was a growing expectation that the number of attacks would increase as the UN probe into murder of Hariri reaches its conclusion.

Detlev Mehlis, head of the UN team investigating the killing of Hariri, last week returned from Damascus where he questioned several senior officials including former heads of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Brigadier Generals Rustom Ghazaleh and Ghazi Kanaan, the current Interior Minister.

He is to report his findings by the end of October.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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