Thursday, August 15, 2013

Beirut car bomb kills 18 - Washington Post

The early evening explosion tore the frontages of tower blocks and set alight parked cars in the neighborhood of Ruwais, an area of staunch support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement that has been the subject of reprisal attacks since sending its militants to back President Bashar-al-Assad's forces in Syria. A group which claimed responsibility threatened "more and more" to come.

With Lebanon deeply divided over the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah has appeared to be attempting to distract from its controversial decision to send fighters to Syria in recent weeks by diverting attention to its sworn enemy, Israel, claiming an attack on Israeli soldiers on Wednesday. However, Syrian rebel groups have vowed to continue to strike against the movement until it withdraws its forces from Syria.

The explosion, which the army said was caused by a car bomb, occurred just a few hundred yards from the site of a blast that injured more than 50 people just over a month ago. Thursday's bomb hit a packed shopping street, killing 18 people and inuring 291, according to the state news agency, which cited caretaker Public Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil. Reuters put the number of dead at 20.

The force of the blast cracked glass as far as 500 yards away from the epicenter. Roads around the area were blocked by Hezbollah plainclothed security. A few hundred yards from the crash site a man with a blood-stained white T-shirt manned a makeshift checkpoint. He said he'd been helping to evacuate the wounded.

"There were more than you can count," he said, declining to give his name. Witnesses said that dozens of residents were trapped in damaged buildings and had to be evacuated by ladders as the area was engulfed in flames. Ambulances and firetrucks screamed through the deserted streets as night fell.

"May Allah punish them," said Kholoud Mahdi, a middle-aged Iraqi woman as she sat sobbing outside a shop near the blast site. "I was just here buying soap, I can't hear from the explosion," she said, clutching her left ear.

"We were expecting this and we expect more," said Mohammed Haider, a 27-year-old Arabic literature student who lives nearby. "I'm sad for the victims who are my family, my neighbors, but this makes us more determined. Hezbollah needs to be in Syria to stop these attacks against its back. We are not afraid."

A group calling itself the "external operations" arm of the Battalions of Aisha Um al-Mumineen claimed responsibility in a video posted online.

"We send you, O pig called Nasrallah, you and your party, our second message strong and loud," a masked man said in the video, flanked by two others toting rifles. He said that Hezbollah had failed to "understand" the first message, seemingly a reference to last month's bombing and a veiled threat against the group's operations in Syria. "This is the second time that we decide the place and timing of the battle, and we will always be there inside your own homes, a disaster to you, and you'll continue to see more of this."

However, some Lebanese politicians pointed the finger at Israel, linking the bombing to Hezbollah's claim on Wednesday night that it had planted explosives that wounded four Israeli soldiers as they crossed into Lebanese territory in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati declared that Friday will be a national day of mourning for the victims. "This blast indicates that the hand of evil is still tampering with this country and its security, safety and all assets," he said in a statement.

Ahmed Ramadan contributed to this report.
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