An Lebanon lawmaker who had just returned to Lebanon two days ago from refuge abroad was killed Wednesday along with six other people by a bomb that rocked a Christian neighborhood of the capital, security officials said.
The bombing, which the security officials said also wounded 22 people, heightened tensions ahead of a presidential vote that already threatened to throw the country into turmoil.
Ghanem, 64, a member of the right-wing Christian Phalange Party, was the target of the bomb, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The Voice of Lebanon radio station, which is owned by the Phalange party, confirmed Ghanem's death. The identities of the others killed were not immediately known.
The bombing on a main street in the Sin el-Fil district severely damaged nearby buildings and set several cars on fire. Blood and debris covered nearby streets.
The attack came six days before parliament was scheduled to meet to elect a new president in a vote expected to be deeply divisive. Four of the slain lawmakers have been from the U.S.-backed majority coalition, reducing its margin in parliament.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said it was "no coincidence" that the attack came as Lebanon prepared to elect a new president.
When pressed, Perino said she was not directly blaming Syria, but added, "As I've said, there's been a pattern, and this would seem to fit into the pattern."
Syria condemned the attack, which it said was meant to sabotage efforts by the Lebanese people to reach agreement.
Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2007, 16:14
"This criminal act aims at undermining efforts made by Syria and others to achieve a Lebanese national accord," Syria's state-run news agency SANA quoted an anonymous Syrian official as saying.
Former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, who heads the Phalange Party, said Lebanon's democracy was at stake.
Explosives experts examined the engine of Ghanem's car, which was hurled at least 50 yards away by the blast. Bystanders, looking shocked, watched as ambulances and civil defense workers searched for more victims.
Ghanem was traveling Wednesday in a car with regular license plates, his blue plate hidden in the trunk, apparently as a security measure. Fatfat told AP that Ghanem returned Monday from abroad where he had been taking refuge for the past two months.
According to local newspapers, a landmark hotel near the parliament building in downtown Beirut has been rented for majority members to protect them during the 60-day presidential election process, which begins Sept. 25.
With Ghanem's death, Saniora supporters hold 68 of parliament's 128 seats, compared with the opposition's 59.