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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 February 2008, 17:40 GMT
Damascus in shock over killing
By Lina Sinjab
BBC News, Damascus

Aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh car bomb
The bombing took most Syrians by surprise, including the government
It took the Syrian authorities nearly a full day to issue a statement condemning the killing of leading Hezbollah member Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus on Tuesday night.

When it appeared, the statement made no clear accusation of who was behind the car bomb.

The assassination is being taken very seriously and has triggered alarm in Syria, a country that usually keeps a tight hold the security situation.

Hezbollah is a strong ally of Syria and analysts believe the assassination of one of its top members is meant as a message to both Syria and Iran, Hezbollah's other main backer.

"This means that the war on Iran has become a reality more than ever before. It is a dangerous security penetration in Syria," says analyst Sami Mubayyed.

Militant guests

The mood in the street is shock. Car bombs are not usual in Syria, a country that is widely viewed as safe by its inhabitants.

Nevertheless, says analyst Dr Firas Shihab, everything appears to be carrying on as normal.

"Maybe this is because people have confidence in the security services or maybe because they were waiting to know from their government what has happened before they formulate their views."

The fact that Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus has implications for other Arab militant leaders in the city such as members of the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a deputy political leader of Hamas, told the BBC that he had no doubt Israel conducted the assassination and not for the first time in Damascus.

Two years ago leading Hamas member Izzedine al-Khalil was assassinated in a similar car bomb in a suburb of Damascus.

Mr Abu Marzouk says Israel has also made a policy of targeting Palestinian leaders in Lebanon, Tunisia and even in Europe.

"This is a war between Hezbollah and Israel, but Israel extended the war outside Lebanese territories which is really dangerous. I expect Hezbollah to retaliate," he said.


Syria has announced an investigation into the assassination, but who was behind it and how they penetrated the security system are big questions that might be hard to answer.

Damascus street
Life appears to have continued as normal in Damascus
Although no direct accusation has been made yet the "Enemy" is obvious to many Baathist politicians.

MP Jibran Jabour believes Israel's involvement is obvious, although Syria's arch-foe has distanced itself from the killing.

"The only reason Israel would deny its involvement is the fear of directly confronting Hezbollah after it lost the July war in 2006," he said.

"Israel has attacked Syria before, when it bombed a military site in Aleppo last September. It is a difficult job now for the security agencies to maintain security and stability in Syria."

The funeral of Imad Mughniyeh took place in Beirut at a time when anti-Syrian groups have been marking three years since the assassination former Lebanese Prime Minster Rafik Hariri.

This is a reminder that Syria itself has been accused of conducting a series of political assassinations in Lebanon - accusations denied by Damascus.

The Syrian authorities' attention will be focused on the fact that Damascus is playing host of the 2008 Arab Summit next month.

Questions are being asked whether this assassination means that security conditions under which the summit will take place could be jeopardised.

Large crowds gather in central Beirut

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