Second bomb kills two in Christian area of Lebanon

Wed Mar 23, 2005 8:42 AM GMT
By Nadim Ladki

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A powerful bomb has ripped through a shopping centre in the anti-Syrian Christian heartland north of Beirut, killing two people and bringing Lebanon closer to choas weeks before general elections.

The explosion, the second in a commercial Christian area in five days, was also set to sharpen a political rift following last month's killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Some Christian politicians and residents in the area pointed the finger at Syria and Lebanon's Syrian-backed security forces, but said they were determined not to be dragged into a new war.

The roof of the centre in the upper class coastal area of Kaslik, 12 miles north of Beirut, collapsed and walls were blown out in the powerful explosion on Wednesday. Emergency services workers searched through the rubble for other victims.

Windows of nearby shops and buildings were shattered and broken glass littered streets lined with boutiques, jewellery stores and nightclubs. Police sources said the blast was caused by a large explosive charge placed inside the multi-storey centre, which was closed at the time.

They said the two people killed were Asian workers. The death toll would have been much higher if the blast had taken place in daytime at the usually crowded street.

Christian opposition figures who rushed to the scene said the bombings were aimed at undermining Lebanon's stability and urged supporters to foil any attempts to sow sectarian rifts.

"It is clear that those who carried out this attack are targeting the security and stability of the country," opposition member of parliament Faris Bouez told reporters. "It is a political message to the (anti-Syrian) independence uprising."

U.S.-led global pressure and Lebanese opposition protests have forced Syria to announce a troop withdrawal from Lebanon. It has already cut the number of its forces in its neighbour and pulled back to eastern Lebanon.

The current crisis is the worst since the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

In the previous incident, a car bomb exploded in a Christian suburb of Beirut early on Saturday, wounding 11 people.

"The aim is chaos...The country is the target," Christian parliamentarian Mansour Ghanem al-Boun said in Kaslik.


Kaslik residents, some dazed, others crying, ventured out after sunrise to sweep up glass from shattered shop fronts.

Security forces were going from boutique to jewellery store assessing the damage. Inside the shopping arcade, the immediate area of the blast, a tangle of twisted metal, dust and sheets of concrete hanging from the collapsed roof, was sealed off.

"We are afraid this is going to keep happening. The country is out of control. Not one knows who comes and who goes in Lebanon," said George Akl, who was helping his son sweep shattered glass outside his hairdresser salon.

"Thank God it was at night or there would have been lots of casualties. This place attracts high-class customers too."

The explosion at around 1:30 a.m. (11.30 p.m. British time) came amid acute political tension since the February 14 killing of Hariri in another bombing. The murder triggered a wave of anti-Syrian protests.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday he expected Syria to present a credible and precise timetable on a full withdrawal of its troops and security services from Lebanon by early next month.

Annan told reporters after talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the sidelines of an Arab summit in Algiers that he would be sending his special envoy to Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, in the first week of April.

"I would expect him to come back with a credible and well-defined timetable" for a Syrian withdrawal, Annan said.

The anti-Syrian opposition has refused to sit in a national unity government with pro-Syrian loyalists, almost foiling the task of Damascus-backed Prime Minister Omar Karami to form such a government.

The opposition wants a transitional government with the sole role of supervising general elections in May. Loyalists say the country's crisis is so serious that dialogue between both sides should start immediately and a unity government should lead Lebanon to the elections.

A delay in forming a government beyond around April 10 would mean a delay in the poll, political sources said.

I wonder is this Syria trying to remind them who is the boss? or Hizbollah trying to whip things up into a frenzy

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