Car bomb kills four in Hezbollah Beirut bastion: Minister

A car bomb killed four people in south Beirut Thursday, the fourth attack to hit the Hezbollah bastion since the Shiite group announced its intervention in Syria last year, the health minister said.

AFP| Updated: Jan 03, 2014, 06:36 AM IST

Beirut: A car bomb killed four people in south Beirut Thursday, the fourth attack to hit the Hezbollah bastion since the Shiite group announced its intervention in Syria last year, the health minister said.

The bombing came just weeks after a twin suicide bombing killed 25 people at the Iranian embassy in the same area and marked a new breach of the tight security in Hezbollah`s stronghold.

Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said four people had been killed and 77 wounded. He said the remains of a fifth person had also been found.

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said it may have been a suicide bombing.

Hezbollah`s public confirmation last April that its fighters had intervened in the civil war alongside President Bashar al-Assad`s forces outraged Lebanese Sunnis, most of whom sympathise with the Syrian rebels, and has made it a target for Sunni hardliners.

An AFP photographer in the densely populated area saw flames and smoke rising from burning vehicles and at least three damaged buildings.

Hezbollah`s Al-Manar television aired footage of panicked bystanders scrambling to douse burning vehicles on the busy Al-Arid street, beneath a building whose facade had been burned out.
"The terrorist explosion targeted a densely populated residential area, just 150 to 200 metres (yards) away from Hezbollah`s political bureau," Al-Manar reported, but said the building was not thought to have been the target. 

The district is symbolic for Hezbollah, which once based many of its leadership institutions in the area. 

Much of the neighbourhood was reduced to rubble during the massive Israeli air bombing that accompanied its 2006 war with Hezbollah, but it has since been rebuilt.

Interior minister Charbel told private Lebanese channel MTV: "We are leaning towards the hypothesis that a suicide bomber" caused the blast, as "human remains were found inside the car. But we cannot confirm this until we complete our investigations."

In a statement, the Lebanese army said 20 kilogrammes (44 pounds) of explosives had been planted inside a four-by-four vehicle, and that "the method of explosion is being investigated."President Michel Sleiman said the car bomb had been planted "by the same hand that plants terrorism, killing and destruction everywhere in Lebanon."

He called for dialogue among the country`s divided leaders and urged security services to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati said "the hand of terrorism does not differentiate between us... Rather, it is planning a despicable conspiracy to drown Lebanese in sectarian strife."

The US embassy tweeted: "We condemn today`s terrorist bombing in #Dahieh #Beirut. Our condolences to the victims and their families."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the bombing "further reflects a deeply worrying escalation in the violence witnessed in Lebanon in recent months."

"The secretary general calls on all Lebanese parties to act with restraint and for the Lebanese people to come together to support the institutions of the state, particularly the army and security forces, as they work to prevent other acts of terrorism." his spokesman said.

Syria`s Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi too condemned the "terrorist bombing" against a stronghold of its Lebanese ally, state media said.

Thursday`s bombing was the fourth attack in south Beirut since Hezbollah announced it was fighting in Syria.

As well as the Iranian embassy attack, the southern suburbs also suffered an August 15 bombing that killed 27 people and a blast earlier the same month that wounded some 50 people.

It comes less than a week after a car bomb in the heart of Beirut killed eight people, including prominent Sunni politician and former finance minister, Mohammad Chatah.

Former premier Saad Hariri, to whom Chatah was a key adviser, condemned Thursday`s blast as a "diabolical act."

Analyst Paul Salem, vice president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said the latest bombings were "part of the broader proxy conflict in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon."

The bombings "show that, a year on from Hezbollah`s announcement it was involved in Syria, it cannot protect its people," Salem said.

"Now it is not only losing its sons in Syria, but it is also unable to protect its people in Lebanon."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 262 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011.