An apparent car bomb blast in Beirut's mostly Shiite southern suburbs has left several casualties, according to various media reports.
Ambulances rushed to the scene of the blast in the mostly Shiite suburb of Haret Hreik, as rescue workers and young men searched for victims amid the rubble. The force of the blast tore through vehicles and store-fronts, leaving charred wreckage and twisted metal.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar television reported that the explosion took place 200 meters from a political office belonging to the group, but denied that any top official had been targeted by the blast.
There were conflicting death tolls. Reuters news agency reported at least three deaths and about 20 injuries. The French news agency said five people died and at least 20 were wounded. Officials said there were assessing the tolls.
Later Thursday, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. State Department condemned the attack. The United States also called on all parties to "refrain from retaliatory acts."
The city has been recently been hit by attacks linked to heightened Sunni-Shiite tensions over the Syrian war.
Interim Health Minister Ali Hassan al Khalil told journalists at the scene of the blast that health officials were attempting to cope with the latest explosion to hit Beirut.
He said that what took place is part of a big battle against terrorism that affects everyone in the country, because it seeks to create sectarian strife. He called for national unity to deal with the situation.
Angry residents of the neighborhood chanted as the minister tried to speak, interrupting him several times. Khalil said he could not clarify if a suicide-bomber had been behind the explosion but stressed that the “large crater from the blast leaves people asking that question.”
The director of the nearby Bahman Hospital, Ali Karim, told reporters that over thirty casualties had been taken to his hospital, including three dead.
He said that women and children were among the casualties and that many victims were suffering from head wounds and shrapnel. He said casualties were also taken to three other local hospitals. Their figures were not immediately available.
Lebanon's National News Agency reported that that Military Judge Saqr Saqr had put the Lebanese Army military police and military intelligence in charge of investigating the cause of the explosion.
The explosion comes less than a week after former Lebanese finance minister Mohamad Chatah, a harsh critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was killed in a massive car bombing in central Beirut. Chatah was a close political adviser to former prime minister Sa'ad al Hariri, a Sunni.
A suicide bombing killed and wounded dozens in front of the Iranian Embassy in November. A Sunni extremist group claimed responsibility for that blast.