1 dead, 3 hurt in blast near Christian Beirut neighborhood

Al-Jazeera attributes explosion to car bomb, but source as yet unconfirmed; cabinet minister blames Syria.

beirut blast 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
beirut blast 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
A bomb went off near a Christian town north of Beirut on Thursday, killing at least one man and wounding three others, in the latest string of explosions that have shaken Lebanon since fighting erupted between army troops and Islamic gunmen in a northern refugee camp three weeks ago. Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the blast occurred in an industrial area in the town of Zouk Mousbeh, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Beirut and near the town of Jounieh in the Christian heartland. The explosion set off large fires in several buildings and black smoke was seen billowing from the area. Ambulances and fire engines raced to the scene, where mangled remains of cars destroyed in the blast lay overturned on the street. Civil defense personnel pulled out the body of Pierre Dehni, whose nationality was not immediately known, from the wreckage of a gutted building. Two Syrian workers and a Lebanese man were also wounded in the blast, the officials said. Al-Jazeera satellite television said a car bomb had caused the explosion but Lebanese officials could not immediately confirmed this. Firefighters said they expected to take hours to extinguish the blazes. Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. television reported that the area targeted in the explosion consisted of about 300 industrial stores and shops that sell paint and inflammable materials. Stored gas and oxygen containers swiftly caught fire in the blast. The blast late Thursday was the second in four days. On Monday, 10 people were injured when a bomb exploded in an empty passenger bus parked in the Christian neighborhood of Bouchrieh east of Beirut. An anti-Syrian Cabinet minister blamed Syria for Thursday's blast and said there was a "direct link" to the ongoing battles between the Lebanese army and Fatah Islam gunmen in the northern Nahr el-Bared refugee camp. "We are witnessing terrorist attacks on the people, government and army of Lebanon," Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh told The Associated Press. He added that "these attacks in many parts of Lebanon which are carried out by the Syrian intelligence services." Hamadeh, who survived a car bomb blast in 2004, said the authorities "are doing our best to end these attacks ... These efforts will be fruitful." Anti-Syrian Christian lawmaker Elias Atallah also blamed Syria for the blast. "A terrorist group is trying to destabilize the Lebanese situation," he told Al-Jazeera late Thursday. "The Syrian regime has promised to turn Lebanon into hell." Earlier Thursday, one Lebanese soldier was killed and three were wounded in clashes in Nahr el-Bared, while a military raid on a suspected insurgent hideout in the country's east uncovered three vehicles rigged with explosives. The fighting in the northern camp, as well as this week's clashes at the Ein el-Hilweh camp near the southern city of Sidon and the latest bombings, have raised fears that Lebanon is heading for more violence. The security officials said the army's fatality Thursday was gunned down by Fatah Islam snipers. Earlier in the day, the al-Qaida-inspired gunmen attacked an armored personnel carrier, wounding three soldiers, two of them seriously.