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French Version

Opposition blames Syria for deadly blast (Daily Star)

Three killed in bomb attack North of beirut

Lebanon's opposition accused pro-Syrian Lebanese security agents of Wednesday's bomb blast in a Christian quarter north of Beirut which killed three and wounded five others.

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The huge bomb, the second targeting a Christian area in less than a week in the run up to Easter, threatens to envelope Lebanon in an atmosphere of fear and chaos just weeks before nationwide elections are scheduled to take place.

The country's political opposition believes the bomb attacks are being carried out by pro-Syrian groups who are determined to create havoc in order to prove a need for a Syrian Army presence in Lebanon.

In a statement, the opposition Qornet Shehwan gathering said: "It has become clear to everyone that the security regime and its collaborators are responsible for terrorizing the people that united behind the demands of the opposition."

Leading opposition MP Walid Jumblatt said the security services were guilty of organizing a "theater of blood" and reiterated his demand that the top security chiefs resign.

Opposition member Simon Karam added: "The Lebanese-Syrian security network is targeting Christian regions in order to provoke Islamic-Christian tension, which will not happen."

French President Jacques Chirac, one of Syria's most vocal international critics, said he was "beside himself with anger" at the bombing.

Chirac said: "I hope that those who are banking on stirring strife in Lebanon and are trying to show that anarchy and bombings would return to Lebanon without Syrian intervention, I hope those who are playing this trivial game can be swiftly exposed and brought to justice."

The blast occurred in the Kesrouan area of Kaslik a few miles outside the capital and comes hard on the heels of a similar blast just five days earlier in New Jdeideh which wounded 11 people.

The three victims of the blast are all believed to be Sri Lankan nationals who had recently arrived in Lebanon in search of work and a better life.

The 30-kilogram bomb, planted in a suitcase under the stairway entrance to the Alta Vista center, exploded at 1:30 a.m. and devastated shops, boutiques and nightclubs, as well as dozens of parked cars.

Red Cross and Civil Defense personnel searched by hand through the debris for victims as police dogs sniffed the rubble for other explosive charges that could have been planted at the site.

Rumors of booby-trapped cars have been spreading rapidly and a number of false alarms were reported in Mansourieh, Achrafieh, Jamhour and Kaslik, where the Universite Saint Esprit received a call that a bomb might explode at any moment. All students and staff members were evacuated, but the alarm proved to be false.

Hizbullah condemned the bombing and urged Lebanese people to be cautious. The group also called on the authorities to take all measures that would secure people's safety and reassure them.

President Emile Lahoud said the attack was aimed at pushing Lebanon into "chaos and fear" and reiterated his earlier call for dialogue between opposition and loyalist politicians "as the only means to break the political stalemate and bridge all differences on controversial issues."

Lebanon's opposition has steadfastly refused to enter a dialogue with loyalist politicians until its demands, which include the resignation of the country's security chiefs, an independent investigation into former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's murder and a full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon are met.

The opposition also called for those directly harmed by the blasts to file personal lawsuits against the interior and defense ministers for "failing to protect the security of the Lebanese."

Outgoing Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh said he was willing to assume full responsibility for the blast, but insisted his "conscience is clear" and that he was not afraid of any lawsuits.

He urged Qornet Shehwan members, who he said were "full of hatred and had found in Hariri's assassination a means to settle accounts, to overcome their hatred or at least postpone it because of the current delicate situation."

In Bkirki, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir said the bombings were proof of "weakness not of strength."

He added: "There are always people who do not want any good for Lebanon, and they want to create problems."

Kesrouan MP Farid Khazen said the Kaslik attack was a response by the commanders of Lebanon's major security branches to the opposition demand that they all be fired for failing to prevent Hariri's assassination last month.

Kesrouan MP Neamatallah Abi Nasr added: "Such attacks will escalate correspondingly with the progress of the process of Lebanon's restoration of sovereignty and independence."

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Beirut 24-03-2005
Michael Glackin
The Daily Star

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