A car bomb has killed Lebanon's former ambassador to the United States, former finance minister Mohamad Chatah. At least four others were killed in the explosion and dozens wounded.
Black smoke billowed into the skies over the Lebanese capital, Beirut, following the blast in the historic city center.
Chatah, a Sunni Muslim, was a respected economist and senior advisor to ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The explosion, which targeted Chatah, occurred near the site of a 2005 blast that killed Hariri's father, Rafiq al-Hariri. Both blasts shattered windows and blew chunks of concrete from buildings within a wide radius.
Hariri indirectly accused the Shi'ite Hezbollah militia for the assassination.
“Those who killed Mohamad Chatah,” he said, “are those who killed (former prime minister) Rafiq al-Hariri, and they want to kill Lebanon, as well.”
There was no immediate response from Hezbollah, which also has a dominant political wing in Lebanon.
Former prime minister Fouad Siniora, who is a close ally of Hariri, accused both Syria and Hezbollah of Chatah's assassination:
Chatah criticized both Syria and Hezbollah in a Twitter post
that appeared an hour before he was killed. The pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia has been accused of other bombings in Lebanon in recent years.
A top Hezbollah commander was assassinated by gunmen several weeks ago, while the Iranian embassy in Beirut suffered extensive damage from a blast last month.
In a recent speech, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah vowed that his group would “exact revenge at the appropriate time.”
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Caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn told a Lebanese television channel that approximately 50 to 60 kilograms of explosives were used in Friday's bombing. Ghosn said surveillance cameras in the area of the blast would likely yield details about who was responsible for it.
Outgoing Interior Minister Marwan Charbel expressed his condolences to victims of the blast and went on to say that the country's leaders needed to settle their differences peacefully:
"The only solution is for everyone to sit down together and discuss their differences," Charbel said.
Former Lebanese president Amine Gemayel lauded Chatah, calling him a man of “moderation, wisdom and dialogue.”
Gemayel went on to tell Sky News Arabia that Lebanon is like a boat, and that “We are all on the boat, so if it capsizes, we all go down with it.”
National dialogue talks are due to resume at the presidential palace Saturday.
Friday's bombing occurred just days before four Hezbollah members go on trial at a United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the Rafiq al-Hariri assassination.
VOA correspondent Margaret Besheer, who is in Beirut, said many observers saw the 62-year-old Chatah as an unlikely assassination target.
"He is not a current member of the government. He's not a deputy in the parliament. He's not a current minister," Besheer said. "When we've seen assassinations in Lebanon in the recent past, it's usually active members of government who are targeted or major political figures from important families."
Yara Zeitoun, who is in Beirut on vacation, told VOA she just missed walking in front of the bomb site as the explosion happened. She said the damage to the area is extensive.
"We're two buildings away from the scene, and we had debris fall all over our apartment from the ceiling and from outside. Dust dust blew in everywhere in the house. It was just a monumental sound," she said.
No one has claimed responsibility. But Lebanon has seen a recent increase in violence related to Syria's civil war that has spilled over the border.