CAIRO — Lebanon's National News Agency says that four people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle he was driving on a busy thoroughfare in Beirut's mostly Shi'ite southern suburbs. It was the fourth major explosion in the area, where influence is held by the pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian Hezbollah.
A security camera on a building not far from the explosion showed a four-wheel drive vehicle blowing up amid traffic in the busy Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik. It was the fourth explosion to hit Beirut's mostly Shi'ite southern district in recent months.
Gunfire erupted briefly, as rescue workers tried to evacuate victims of the blast from damaged residential buildings and gutted vehicles. Casualties were taken to nearby hospitals as security forces combed the area for details of the bombing.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told a news conference that there have been a number of security lapses in recent months, leading to bombings like this one. He goes on to argue that recent suicide bombings have become more sophisticated:
He sais this is the second bombing that he has seen in which a suicide bomber, wearing a suicide belt, has driven a bomb-laden vehicle that has blown up. This time, though, he notes, the bomb in the vehicle went off, but the driver's suicide belt did not explode.
Hezbollah's al-Manar TV reported that the vehicle contained four mortar bombs that were joined together. Another recent blast, which killed a prominent Sunni politician, is thought to have used more than twice that quantity of explosives.
Jabha al-Nusrat claims responsibility
The militant Islamic Jabha al-Nusrat group, which is fighting in Syria against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, claimed responsibility for the blast on Twitter. The group said the bombing was retaliation for regime attacks on “Syrian children” and children in the Lebanese border village of Arsal.
The bombing took place several hundred meters from the Hezbollah group's party offices. Acting Interior Minister Charbel insisted that the bomber “failed in his attempt to attack the Hezbollah compound.” Another bomber blew himself up earlier this month before reaching the building.
Former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel told several Lebanese TV channels that “action must be taken to stop militants and extremists from inciting religious and sectarian conflicts.” He insisted that “outside forces are trying to stir up trouble in Lebanon.”
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United States condemns the attack in the strongest terms. She said such abhorrent acts of terrorism undermine the peace and security the Lebanese people deserve.
Analyst Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis says spillover from the conflict in Syria and anger over Hezbollah's involvement in support of the Assad regime, has been limited by efforts by Lebanese leaders to contain the violence:
"Strong measures taken by the Lebanese armed forces and security agencies, along with Hezbollah's measures, and efforts by various Lebanese parties, including the parties against the Syrian regime, have helped contain the situation and keep the spillover of Hezbollah's intervention [in Syria] limited to a bombing every now and then in some neighborhoods," said Riad Kahwaji.
Shi'ite Hezbollah militiamen have been openly battling Sunni rebel groups inside Syria for months, in a bid to stop them from ousting President Assad. This, in turn, has ratcheted up tensions inside Lebanon, spurring armed clashes and multiple attacks across the country.