Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later
BEIRUT - A Lebanese supporter of the Syrian regime was convicted in absentia on Friday over a 1982 bombing that killed 23 people including Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel.
Seen as a hero by many Lebanese Christians but hated by many in Lebanon for his cooperation with Israel, Gemayel died in a massive September 14, 1982 blast at the headquarters of his Christian Phalange Party in the Ashrafiyeh neighbourhood.
Habib al-Shartouni, a member of the Damascus-backed Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), was found guilty of planting the bomb.
The Court of Justice sentenced him to death for "premeditated murder", a correspondent at the courthouse said.
His alleged co-conspirator, SSNP security official Nabil Faraj al-Alam, was also sentenced to death on the same charge, but according to Lebanese media he is believed to have already died in 2014 in Brazil.
Shartouni was arrested in 1983 but was mysteriously released from prison in October 1990 during a Syrian-led offensive that ousted former prime minister Michel Aoun.
Gemayel, a warlord adored by many in his community, was killed just 20 days after his election as president in the weeks following Israel's invasion of Lebanon.
Many see him as a traitor for his cooperation with Israel, with which Lebanon is still technically at war.
Gemayel's widow Solange and other supporters gathered outside the court following the verdict and chanted "Bashir lives in us".
SSNP supporters also gathered nearby to condemn the verdict, calling Shartouni a "hero" and brandishing photos of Gemayel with Ariel Sharon, Israel's defence minister at the time.
A year before the bombing, Bashir's four-year-old daughter Maya was killed in a car bombing targeting her father.
Shortly after his assassination, pro-Israeli Christian militias carried out a massacre of hundreds of men, women and children in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in southern Beirut, surrounded by Israeli forces.
An Israeli commission of inquiry later found that Sharon had been "indirectly responsible" for the killings.
Lebanon's 15-year war pitted Palestinian militias and their largely Muslim supporters against Christians who opposed the presence of Palestinian forces there.
Gemayel was a scion of an influential Maronite Christian family that shaped the contemporary history of Lebanon.
His eldest brother, Amine, succeeded him as president.
Another brother, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, was also killed in 2006 in a series of attacks targeting anti-Syrian political figures.
A year later, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was killed by a massive blast that left a total of 23 dead, including MP Bassel Fleyhane, and wounded 220 others.
The Syrian regime, accused of being behind the blast, was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, ending a 30-year presence.