Another Beirut assassination

December 15, 2005

The self-proclaimed assassins of Lebanese journalist Gibran Tueni boasted in a statement that they had broken his pen. How mistaken they are - the anti-Syrian views he expressed in the pages of his Beirut newspaper, An-Nahar, were not his alone. And his murder Monday shouldn't keep other Lebanese from demanding their rights to live freely, without interference from Syria, its agents and provocateurs. Not if Mr. Tueni is the example.

The 48-year-old publisher had long protested Syria's military occupation of his home country, which began in the midst of the Lebanese civil war three decades ago. He continued his sharp attacks, even as prominent Lebanese, beginning with former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, were killed in one targeted car bombing after another this year. Mr. Hariri's murder in February led to large protests that forced Syria to remove its military from Lebanon in the spring and ushered in a new parliament dominated by Syrian opponents. After his name reportedly appeared on a hit list this summer, Mr. Tueni sought refuge in Paris, but his anti-Syrian columns didn't stop. In October, he publicly excoriated Damascus as a corrupt regime. Mr. Tueni dared to return to Beirut, and it cost him his life this week.

Killing journalists and outspoken critics may silence their voices, but it has the effect of enhancing the credibility of their critiques.

Syria has denied any connection to Mr. Tueni's murder and the other targeted killings. But its denials are unconvincing, especially in light of the most recent report of a U.N. team convened to investigate the deaths of Mr. Hariri and 22 others in the Feb. 14 car bombing. The U.N. investigators found that Syria had destroyed evidence and intimidated witnesses familiar with the killings, leading them to conclude that top Syrian and Lebanese officials were involved in Mr. Hariri's death. Top aides and relatives of Syrian President Bashar Assad have been implicated in the murders.

U.N. investigators should steadfastly pursue their leads, and a prominent individual should be named to succeed Detlev Mehlis, the tough German prosecutor who has competently led the probe so far.

In his last newspaper column, the always controversial Mr. Tueni reminded Damascus that Lebanon "never was and never will be" a part of Syria. Neither fear nor intimidation should dissuade the Lebanese people from realizing the goals of their Cedar Revolution - a democratic Lebanon.

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