Syria has been accused of a deadly bomb attack that killed eight people in Lebanon including Sunni intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan. The bombing was followed by angry street protests by Sunni Muslims across the country.
Two of Lebanon's senior anti-Damascus political leaders accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of assassinating a top Lebanese security official in a car bomb attack in Beirut on Friday.
Wissam al-Hassan, who led the investigation that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, was killed along with at least seven others when a bomb struck the city’s mainly Christian Ashafriyeh neighbourhood.
The bomb, which exploded in a busy street during rush hour, also wounded about 80 people. The attack prompted Sunni Muslims to take to the streets in areas across the country, burning tyres in protest.
Rubble and the twisted, burning wreckage of several cars filled the central Beirut street where the bomb exploded, ripping the facades and balconies off buildings.
FRANCE 24's Lucy Fielder reports from Beirut
Firefighters scrambled through the debris and rescue workers carried off the bloodied victims on stretchers. The blast came as many parents were picking up their children from school.
Hassan central to arrest of Assad ally
Hassan was the brains behind uncovering a bomb plot that led to the arrest and indictment in August of former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in a setback for Damascus and its Lebanese allies including Hezbollah.
"We accuse Bashar al-Assad of the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan, the guarantor of the security of the Lebanese," former prime minister and opposition chief Saad Hariri told a Lebanese television station.
Opposition leader Walid Jumblatt, a longtime critic of Damascus and member of the Druze community, said: "I openly accuse Bashar al-Assad and his regime of killing Wissam al-Hassan.
Friday’s attack brought the war in neighbouring Syria to the Lebanese capital.
The Syria conflict, in which 30,000 people have been killed in the past 19 months, has pitted mostly Sunni insurgents against Assad, who is from the Alawite sect linked to Shi’ite Islam.
The civil war in Syria, where the Alawite-led administration is fighting an opposition dominated by Sunni Muslims, has shaken Lebanon’s own sectarian balance, triggering fighting between Sunnis and Alawites in the northern city of Tripoli.
The bombing prompted Sunni Muslims to take to the streets in areas across the country, burning tyres in protest.
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Protesters, infuriated by the death of the prominent Sunni, blocked roads in the eastern Bekaa valley region, the northern area of Akkar, neighbourhoods of the capital Beirut and in the southern city of Sidon.
‘It’s chaos here’
FRANCE 24 spoke to Lebanese journalist Lynn Tehini, who said there was a real feeling of fear in the country over what might happen next.
“It is chaos here. The Lebanese people have been used to this in the past but this type of attack has not happened for a long time. People are panicking and they don’t know what to expect. They are scared the bombing will have really serious consequences for the country.
“People have been worried that this could happen. Politicians might try and call for calm but we will have to wait and see whether the people will follow.”
French President François Hollande was among the world leaders who condemned the Beirut bombing.
"The President condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack that took place today in Beirut," a statement from the presidential palace said.
"General Wissam al-Hassan was a man devoted to his country, its stability and its independence. His death is a great loss.
"The Head of State calls on all Lebanese political leaders to maintain the unity of Lebanon and protect against all attempts at destabilising the country."
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2012-10-19