Anti-Syrian cabinet minister killed in Beirut

Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, a prominent anti-Syrian politician and head of the Christian Phalange party, has been shot and killed while driving in Beirut.

Expected to inflame tensions between pro- and anti-Syrian political factions

Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, a prominent anti-Syrian politician, has been fatally shot while driving through a Christian suburb of Beirut.

Gemayel was head of the Christian Phalange party, as well as the son of a past president. He is the fifth anti-Syrian politician murdered in Lebanon in the past two years.

Lebanese police said three gunmen opened fire Tuesday on Gemayel's caras his convoy drove through the Jdeideh neighbourhood of the city.

Gemayel was shot and taken to hospital, where he died of his wounds.

It's not yet known who was behind the attack, but the son of the assassinated former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, has blamed Syria.

"We believe the hand of Syria is all over this," Saad Hariri told reporters from Beirut.

Damascus denies role

Syria's government news agency said Damascus condemns the killing. So has the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah, Syria's closest ally in Lebanese politics.

A Hezbollah leader, Ahmed Melli, said the slaying of Gemayel was "carried out by those forces who want to harm the future of Lebanon."

U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the killing was "an act of terrorism"aimed at destabilizing Lebanon.

Speaking to U.S. troops in Hawaii, President George W. Bush called for an investigation and said Washington would support the Lebanese government against attempts by Syria and Iran to "foment trouble."

The attack looks set to inflame existing tensions between pro- and anti-Syrian factions in Lebanese politics.

CBC's Nahlah Ayed, reporting from Beirut, said protests were expected in theaftermath of the Gemayel attack.

"It will definitely elevate the rhetoric," Ayed said, "and you can't rule out the possibility of further violence."

In October, Washington accused Damascus and Tehranof using Hezbollah to destabilize the Lebanese government and prevent the establishment of an international tribunal that could prosecute anyone accused of involvement in Hariri's assassination.

Syria has denied any role in the car bombing that killed Hariri in February 2005.

However, United Nations investigators have said there is compelling evidence that Damascus was involved and many Lebanese believe it.

Syria has long wielded great influence in Lebanon and maintained troops there for decades, but was forced to end the military occupation as mass protests against Damascus followed Hariri's slaying.

Gemayel from a political family

Gemayel's political partyis part of the anti-Syrian faction in the Lebanese parliament. Hezbollah — the leading supporter of Syria in the cabinet — has been threatening to topple the government if it didn't get a greater say in decision-making.

Gemayel was from a prominent Christian Arab political family in Lebanon. His Phalange party was founded by his grandfather in 1936 as a voice for Lebanese Christians, and his father, Amin Gemayel, was president of Lebanon from 1982 to 1988.

During the Lebanese civil war in the 1980s, Phalange was the largest Christian militia fighting Muslim Lebanese and Palestinian groups.

With files from the Associated Press