Syria hands to Lebanon suspected assassins' car
BEIRUT, July 9 (Reuters) Syria has handed to Lebanon a car Beirut authorities believe was used in last year's killing of a Christian cabinet minister, security sources said today.
Lebanese investigators have concluded that al Qaeda-inspired militants of Fatah al-Islam were behind the November 21 assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, the sources said.
They said the breakthrough in the case came from confessions made by a militant who was among those detained during a crackdown last month. Gemayel's assassins had also been identified but had been killed in fighting with the Lebanese army at a Palestinian refugee camp in recent weeks, they said.
Gemayel was shot dead while driving in a Christian suburb of Beirut. Lebanon's ruling coalition, which includes Gemayel's Phalange Party, accused Damascus of being behind his killing.
Syria denied any involvement.
The security sources said Syrian authorities had found a car without proper papers in December that matched the description of a vehicle stolen in Lebanon and wanted by Interpol.
The Syrians sent the stolen car back to Lebanon in May. Only later did the authorities in Beirut link it to Gemayel's assassination. They are now trying to confirm their suspicions through forensic tests with the help of UN investigators.
Lebanon has been hit by bombings and political attacks on anti-Syrian figures since October 2004. A UN inquiry, set up after the 2005 killing of ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri, is looking into the attacks. The UN Security Council set up a special court last month to try any indicted suspects.
Lebanese troops have been battling Fatah al-Islam at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp since May 20. More than 200 people have been killed in the fighting with the militants, who broke away from a Syrian-backed Palestinian faction last year.
The authorities had blamed Fatah al-Islam for twin bus bombings in a Christian area near Beirut on February 13 that killed three civilians. The group denied any links.
The government says Fatah al-Islam is a tool of Syrian intelligence, something Damascus and Fatah al-Islam deny. The group says it has no organisational ties with al Qaeda, but supports its militant ideology.
Some of its members -- mainly Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians and Saudis -- have fought in Iraq.
REUTERS SV RN1719