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Twin blasts cause chaos in Beirut

19 November 2013, 15:42

Beirut - A double bomb attack outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed at least 22 people, wounded almost 150 and caused widespread damage on Tuesday in a stronghold of Hezbollah, government sources said.

The powerful explosions just opposite the nine-storey embassy in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital caused chaos, ripping the façades off nearby buildings and setting cars ablaze.

They follow two other bomb attacks this year in the southern suburbs of Beirut that are the bastion of the powerful Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah.

The group, which is sponsored by Iran, has drawn controversy for sending thousands of fighters to support the regime of Syria's President Bashar Assad as he battles a 32-month-old uprising.

And the regime in Damascus was quick to condemn the blasts.

"The Syrian government firmly condemns the terrorist attack carried out near the Iranian embassy in Beirut," state television said.

Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil told AFP that the toll from the attacks stood at 22 dead and 146 wounded, but warned this was likely to rise.

Among those killed, a government source said, was Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari, a cultural adviser at the embassy.

"He was entering the embassy when a blast too place. He was seriously wounded and died in hospital," the source said.

This was confirmed by Iranian state television and the official IRNA news agency, which said he was a mid-ranking Shi'ite cleric.

A senior security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the attack involved two explosions.

"The preliminary information we have is that a motorbike exploded and then shortly afterwards a car exploded 30m away, causing at least 15 deaths," the source said, adding that the Iranian embassy was "probably" the target.

"We can't yet say whether they were suicide attacks or bombs that were detonated from a distance," the source added.

The ambassador, Ghazanfar Rokn-Abadi, said all staff inside the embassy at the time of the attack escaped unharmed.

"All colleagues inside the embassy are in full health," he said, quoted by Mehr news agency.

'Charred bodies on fire'

An AFP correspondent at the scene described blood and glass on the streets and the façades of at least four buildings opposite the embassy torn off by the blast.

Lebanese media broadcast harrowing images from the scene of the blast, with charred bodies, some still on fire, on a street lined by blazing cars and strewn with the rubble.

Cars and trees were blackened, and men hurriedly carried the wounded away from the scene on stretchers.

In the wake of the blast, Lebanese soldiers and security forces from the Hezbollah movement crowded into the area, while residents walked around dazed and too upset to speak.

At the nearby Rasul Aazem Hospital, which received the bodies of seven people killed in the blasts, relatives lined up to hear news of their loved ones, weeping.

Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Assad's regime in war-hit Syria, has seen its strongholds in southern Beirut targeted twice by car bombs this year.

The blasts, on 9 July and 15 August, killed 27 people.

Tensions in Lebanon over the 32-month-old conflict in Syria have been rising, with Hezbollah's involvement criticised by many Sunni Lebanese who back the Sunni-dominated uprising against Assad.

But Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah pledged just last week that he would not withdraw his forces from Syria.

"We have said on several occasions that the presence of our soldiers on Syrian soil is to defend... Syria, which supports the resistance" against Israel, Nasrallah said.

"So long as that reason exists, our presence there is justified," he added, addressing supporters at a religious rally in the southern suburbs of Beirut.



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