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Lebanese soldiers and security personnel walk amid the rubble after an explosion in Ashrafiyeh district, in central Beirut, yesterday.
BEIRUT: A huge car bomb explosion in Beirut yesterday killed a top Lebanese security official whose investigations implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Al Hariri seven years ago.
The rush-hour bomb in the centre of the Lebanese capital killed eight people and wounded about 80 others, heightening fears that Syria’s war is spilling over into Lebanon.
Among the dead was Wissam Al Hassan, the head of a Lebanese intelligence agency who had also uncovered a recent bomb plot that led to the arrest of a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician, a Lebanese official said.
Al Hassan was a close aide to Hariri, who was killed in a 2005 bomb attack in downtown Beirut. Al Hassan’s investigation into Hariri’s death uncovered evidence that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the killing.
Yesterday’s bombing, reminiscent of grim scenes from Lebanon’s own 1975-1990 civil war, was seen as being linked to the heightened tension between Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria.
The explosion ripped through the street where the office of the anti-Damascus Christian Phalange Party is located near Sassine Square in Ashrafiyeh, a mostly Christian area.
Phalange leader Sami Al Gemayel, a staunch opponent of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and a member of parliament, condemned the attack.
“Let the state protect the citizens. We will not accept any procrastination in this matter, we cannot continue like that. We have been warning for a year. Enough,” said Gemayel, whose brother was assassinated in November 2006.
The war in Syria, which has killed 30,000 people in the past 19 months, has pitted mostly Sunni insurgents against Assad, who is from the Alawite sect.
Lebanon’s religious communities are divided between those supporting Assad and those backing the rebels trying to overthrow him.
The blast occurred when parents were picking up children from school, and sent black smoke billowing into the sky.
Eight people were killed and at least 78 were wounded, the state news agency said, quoting civil defence officials. Several cars were destroyed and the front of a multi-storey building was badly damaged, with tangled wires and metal railings crashing to the ground.
In the aftermath, residents ran about in panic looking for relatives while others helped carry the wounded to ambulances. Security forces blanketed the area.
Ambulances ferried the wounded to several hospitals. At one, an elderly woman sat in the emergency room with blood staining her blouse.