The United States will send a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) team to help Lebanon probe the Beirut car bombing that killed the country’s internal security chief, officials said Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed Washington’s support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, in a phone call with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
“There is going to be an FBI team headed to Lebanon to help them with their investigation. But we’ll certainly wait for the results of that investigation” before deciding any further response, Toner told reporters, according to AFP.
Describing Clinton’s conversation with Mikati, he said “she was very, very clear in stressing our support for Lebanon’s sovereignty” and also “stressed the importance of all political leaders working together.”
He did not say whether the FBI team had already arrived in Lebanon, where there have been violent protests since Friday, when police intelligence chief General Wessam al-Hassan died in the Beirut bombing.
“It’s a very sensitive time,” he added, saying: “There’s an investigation under way, and we're going to look to the results of that investigation. And we also would urge calm.”
On Friday, the United States condemned the blast as a terrorist strike. And on Sunday, Clinton underscored “the United States’ firm commitment to Lebanon’s stability, independence, sovereignty and security.”
Hassan’s funeral on Sunday had been billed as a protest against Syrian meddling in Lebanon, but quickly turned into anger at Mikati, whose government is dominated by pro-Syria parties.
Despite calls for him to quit, Mikati said he would stay on at President Michel Suleiman’s request to avoid a “political vacuum” in volatile Lebanon.
The opposition has widely blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for Friday’s attack, as it did in 2005 when former premier Rafiq Hariri was killed in a huge Beirut blast.
The army said it was determined to restore order, but the northern port of Tripoli was also shaken Monday by fighting between partisans and opponents of Assad that killed seven people.
On Monday afternoon personnel carriers entered Beirut’s Sunni district of Tariq Jdideh, which had been a hotspot all day. Soldiers took up position on streets leading into the district to keep them open, a military spokesman said.
Six people were wounded when the army made a pre-dawn sweep of Tariq Jdideh in pursuit of armed men, and automatic weapons and anti-tank rocket fire could be heard.
Later, soldiers responded after being fired on as they tried to clear a road into the district, a stronghold of opposition leader Saad Hariri. His supporters had blocked it despite calls by the former premier to stay off the streets.
The army spokesman said a 20-year-old Palestinian, Ahmed Quaider, was shot after firing at an army patrol.
In Tripoli, a Sunni bastion where opposition to Assad is strong, seven people were killed and 12 wounded during clashes between Sunnis and Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which the Syrian president belongs, security sources said.
Two Alawites and five Sunnis died.
Lebanon is a multi-faith country in which Christians, Shiite and Sunni Muslims each make up about one-third of the population.
Under a complex but unwritten arrangement, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the premier a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Shiite.