Beirut blast injures six

A huge bomb explosion has rocked an industrial area in a mainly Christian neighbourhood in east Beirut, injuring six people, the official news agency is now reporting.

    This is the third attack in a Christian area in the past week

    Earlier, news reports had stated that two people were killed in Saturday's blast, which was the third blast in a Christian district in a week.

    Lebanon's official news agency ANI has now revised figures stating that there have been no deaths, and just six injuries; four Lebanese and two Indian nationals.

    According to the latest statement, it is unclear how serious the injuries may be.

    A police officer said the mid-evening blast was caused by a car bomb near the district of Dikuana. He said it set several buildings ablaze and inflicted extensive material damage.

    'Apocalyptic sight'

    For the second time in seven days, foreign nationals have been caught up in the blasts, and the bombings themselves are certain to heighten fears of renewed communal strife in the ethnicaly diverse Lebanon.

    The bombings come in the wake of the assasination of Lebanon's former prime minster Rafiq al-Hariri, who was killed in Febuary and which has sparked the most serious political crisis in the country since the civil war ended in 1990.

    The scene of the blast was described by one witness as "an apocalyptic sight", as fire engines and ambulances rushed to the scene under a huge cloud of black smoke.

    Beirut has been jittery since 11 people were injured when a bomb exploded beneath a car in the Christian suburb of New Jdaida on 19 March, an attack that was followed by another bomb blast in Kaslik on Wednesday that killed three people.

    Greater damage 

    The damage caused by Saturday's explosion was greater than what was caused by the two previous explosions, chief of Aljazeera's office in Beirut, Ghassan bin Jiddu, said. 

    But experts said the latest blast packed less explosive force than the previous ones.

    Both Lebanese and foreigners
    have been hurt in the explosions

    The first was caused by a 70kg charge of TNT while the second explosion in New Jdaida area by about 20kg.

    The latest blast was caused by a 22kg charge of TNT, yet it wreaked greater havoc by targeting an industrial area. Also, it was a professional's handiwork, the device having been planted under a building, bin Jiddu said.

    The resulting fire affected three factory buildings.

    Media threatened

    On Saturday, Aljazeera's bureau in Lebanon received a phone call from an unidentified person who issued a threat to media organisations.

    The caller warned that the central Beirut office building housing Aljazeera's bureau would be bombed if they did not stop their coverage of the ongoing explosions in Beirut. 

    The building has offices of other Arab and foreign media organisations and faces a government building. As of Saturday evening, all the media offices were working normally.

    An army officer said security forces receive around 20-25  phone calls a day warning them of bombs. Some are false alarms and others are real as some bombs have been defused, the officer said.

    Aljazeera has learned that a bomb was defused recently in the Hiraik neighbourhood of southern Beirut. However, the report has not been confirmed yet.

    Syria accused

    The previous two explosions were blamed by the Lebanese opposition on Syrian-backed Lebanese security agents.

    The opposition alleges the agents are determined to stir up sectarian strife at a time when Lebanon is without a permanent government, and Syrian troops are withdrawing under intense international pressure.

    It's a provocation against civil peace. A new leadership is absolutely necessary to take matters in hand. The current leadership, which is collapsing, is trying to defend itself by terrorist means"

    Walid Jumblat,
    Opposition leader

    "It's a provocation against civil peace," opposition leader Walid Jumblat said of the latest incident, the third since al-Hariri's assasination. 

    "A new leadership is absolutely necessary to take matters in hand. The current leadership, which is collapsing, is trying to defend itself by terrorist means," Jumblat said.

    Another opposition figure, Walid Aido, accused Lebanese security services and said they represented a "criminal intent to plunge the country into chaos - politically, economically and with regard to security".

    The opposition has also accused Lebanese and Syrian intelligence agents in the attack on al-Hariri.

    Al-Hariri assassination

    Lebanese and Syrian authorities deny all the allegations.

    Al-Hariri's death galvanised momentum in a campaign to pressure Syria into withdrawing the estimated 14,000 troops stationed in Lebanon.

    Al-Hariri's killing has plunged the
    country into political chaos

    As a result, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad has begun withdrawing his troops, 4000 to 5000 of whom have already returned to Syria, in accordance with a United Nations Security Council resolution.

    The assassination also forced the resignation on 28 February of Prime Minister Umar Karami in the face of public fury and after several huge demonstrations.

    Karami was called back to the premiership by President Emile Lahud on 10 March, but so far has been unable to persuade opposition MPs to join him in a cabinet of national unity. 

    Lebanese authorities acceded to a key opposition demand on Saturday by agreeing to an international panel to determine who killed al-Hariri.

    The decision followed the release of a harsh UN report that faulted Lebanese authorities for carrying out a grossly negligent investigation into the attack.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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