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Death in Lebanon stirs push for Hezbollah to quit power

Lebanese antigovernment protesters gathered in Beirut’s Sassine Square Wednesday. The assassination of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan has stirred sectarian tensions.

Maya Alleruzzo/Associated Press

Lebanese antigovernment protesters gathered in Beirut’s Sassine Square Wednesday. The assassination of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan has stirred sectarian tensions.

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s main opposition bloc stepped up pressure Wednesday on the Hezbollah-dominated government to resign after blaming the Shi’ite militant group’s ally Syria for a car bomb that killed a top intelligence officer.

The anti-Syrian opposition alliance said Lebanon’s rival groups cannot hold a national dialogue until the government led by Hezbollah and its allies steps down.

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‘‘The first step to face strife is the fall of this government,’’ said a statement by the March 14 coalition of anti-Syrian parties, read by senior official Fares Soeid.

‘‘The government, through its leader and the political groups that back him, takes major responsibility for facilitating the plan of the criminal Assad regime,’’ it added.

The statement was an apparent reference to what anti-Syrian politicians say is lack of support for investigations into other recent assassination attempts.

Friday’s assassination of a senior intelligence officer, Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, in a car bomb has stirred up sectarian tensions in Lebanon, where Sunnis and Shi’ites are deeply divided over the Syrian civil war. Violence since the assassination has killed 13 people.

Damascus has intervened heavily in Lebanese affairs over the past decades and is blamed for the deaths of many prominent critics and anti-Syrian political figures.

But Hezbollah remains a staunch ally to both Syria and Iran, which provide much of its arms and funding.

Soeid said the opposition will work to bring down the government through peaceful means.

The United States also waded into the debate, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton making a thinly veiled jab at Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.

Clinton told reporters in Washington that the Lebanese must choose their own government, but that ‘‘the Lebanese people deserve so much better.’’

Lebanon’s two largest political coalitions have lined up on opposite sides of Syria’s civil war. Hezbollah and its partners who dominate the government have stood by Assad’s regime, while the Sunni-led opposition backs the rebels seeking to topple the government. Assad and many in his inner circle are Alawites — an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam and a minority in Syria — while the rebels come mostly from the country’s Sunni majority.

Hassan was the latest of some dozen anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians and security forces to be killed since February 2005 when former prime minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a truck bomb in Beirut. Hariri at the time was distancing himself from Syria, which dominated Lebanon for decades.

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