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Explosion Targets Bus in Lebanese City of Tripoli

At least 18 people were killed, seven of them Lebanese Army soldiers, and more than 45 people were wounded, in an explosion targeting an intercity passenger bus in the northern port city of Tripoli. The explosion follows weeks of tensions in Tripoli and comes just hours before Lebanon's new president Michel Suleiman was due to make his maiden visit to Syria, as Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut.

Red Cross rescue workers, firefighters and army troops pulled victims out of the wreckage of a passenger bus hit by an explosion, early Wednesday, in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli.

Broken glass, blood-stained clothing, and tattered back-packs littered the street surrounding the scene of the explosion, as police cordoned off the area.

Lebanon's National News Agency reports that at least seven of the dead were Lebanese Army soldiers who were commuting to their posts of duty.

Tripoli has been the scene of weeks of bitter fighting between rival pro and anti-Syrian factions, and the Lebanese Army has been deployed there, since May, to keep the peace.

Veteran pro-Western Member of Parliament Butros Harb insists that the explosion was a political message, because of it's timing. He said the victims are martyrs for Lebanon and he said he thinks the explosion carries a message, because of its timing. Harb said the blast comes as Lebanon's president was set to visit Syria and just after the government has won a vote of confidence and it follows the army's deployment to Tripoli.

Rival member of parliament Musbah Ahdab, who represents Tripoli, claimed that Syria had no interest in causing trouble in Tripoli, just before the long-awaited visit of President Michel Suleiman to Damascus.

Many anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians have accused Damascus of responsibility in a long series of previous explosions, following the slaying of former Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri in a massive car-bomb attack in 2005.

No one has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's explosion, but several Lebanese commentators are accusing the Sunni-militant Fatah al Islam group, which fought the Lebanese Army in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al Bared, last summer.

Dr. Paul Salem of the Carnegie Center for Peace in the Middle East, argues that this attack is related to last summer's fighting between the army and Fatah al Islam:

"It seems to be linked to the battles of last year between Fatah al Islam and the army, because the target was clearly the Lebanese Army, and that's an ongoing fight. It doesn't seem to be a continuation of the troubles that Tripoli is having, the last couple of months. It seems to have a different nature," he said. "It's also curious that it's done on the day that the president is going to Syria, which might be a signal to both Lebanon and Syria that the radical jihadi groups are still capable of inflicting harm, even if Lebanon and Syria cooperate, they're still around"

Fatah al Islam's leader, Chaker al Abssi, is still at large, and his group has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on army posts, across Lebanon, in recent months.

Scores of Fatah al Islam prisoners are also holding a hunger strike in Lebanese prisons, as they await trial for trying to overthrow the government.