A wonderful man died today.
General Francois al-Hajj was a son of South Lebanon. He hailed from Rmeish, a Maronite village close to the border with Israel where his father Elias and his mother still live. I first met him in 1980 in southern Lebanon when he was a liaison officer to the UN peacekeeping force. He greeted almost everyone with a ready smile, a fine wit, and a generous disposition. He would move mountains to help a friend--"ghaali wa-talabat rakhees" you are valued and what you have asked is nothing. In those days he patiently taught me his beloved Lebanese proverbs, and he also enjoyed beating me at backgammon. He was one of a few people who opened their hearts to me and taught me about Lebanon in the midst of the civil war, and almost all of them are now dead. Francois was only 54 when he was blown up by car bomb in Baabda on December 12, 2007.
He directed the attack on the Nahr al-Bared camp last summer, but my hunch is his death must be understood as one of the string of assassinations intended to sabotage the creation of a viable, independent government in Lebanon. General al-Hajj was widely expected to become the next army commander to replace Michel Suleiman, who is expected to become president.
This is a very sad day for Lebanon, in addition to being a horrible day for the family of Francois al-Hajj.