Deadly explosion in Beirut raises fears of fresh out­break of civil strife

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD - JOHN DAV­I­SON

BEIRUT: Le­banese prime min­is­ter Tam­mam Salam held an emer­gency meet­ing with his se­cu­rity cab­i­net and mil­i­tary chiefs yes­ter­day as the na­tion mourned 44 peo­ple killed in a dou­ble sui­cide bomb­ing claimed by Is­lamic State.

The blasts late on Thurs­day hit a res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial area in a southern sub­urb of Beirut, a strong­hold of Shia Mus­lim group Hezbol­lah, in the lat­est spillover of violence from the war in neigh­bour­ing Syria.

The first at­tacks in more than a year on a Hezbol­lah bas­tion in­side Le­banon came at time when the group is step­ping up its in­volve­ment in Syria’s civil war.

Iran-backed Hezbol­lah has sent troops to sup­port Syr­ian pres­i­dent Bashar al- As­sad against Sunni Mus­lim in­sur­gent groups in­clud­ing the IS.

Le­banon is also suf­fer­ing from its own po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in which dis­putes be­tween par- ties, fac­tions and sects have stopped the gov­ern­ment tak­ing ba­sic de­ci­sions and left the coun­try with­out a pres­i­dent for 17 months.

The army set up a heavy se­cu­rity pres­ence around the scene of the blast, which yes­ter­day was still lit­tered with de­bris, dam­aged cars, mo­tor­bikes and shat­tered glass.

Med­i­cal sources raised the death toll yes­ter­day from 43 to 44, with more than 200 peo­ple wounded.

Fu­ner­als were held

in Beirut for sev­eral of the vic­tims later in the day, with coffins draped in the flags of Hezbol­lah and Amal, an­other Shia move­ment.

De­fence Min­is­ter Samir Mo­q­bel said the army was on high alert, and try­ing to keep a frag­ile calm.

“To tell you the se­cu­rity forces can con­trol things like that 100 per­cent of the time, I’d be ly­ing,” he said.

“We’re do­ing our best in co­or­di­na­tion with all the par­ties on the ground.”

Min­is­ters have urged politi­cians to put ri­val­ries aside and work to­wards elect­ing a pres­i­dent and bol­ster­ing the gov­ern­ment and par­lia­ment.

Beirut res­i­dents ex­pressed con­cern af­ter the violence, say­ing it raised the spec­tre of civil strife.

“It’s been a year... with no ex­plo­sions. We thought we were done with this, but were proved wrong yes­ter­day,” said cen­tral Beirut res­i­dent Ra­jaa, who gave only her first name.

“This explosion tar­geted Le­banon as whole, not only Beirut’s southern sub­urbs.”

On Thurs­day Hezbol­lah warned of a “long war” against its en­e­mies.

UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon urged Le­banon “not to al­low this de­spi­ca­ble act to de­stroy the rel­a­tive calm that has pre­vailed in the coun­try over the past year”.

The White House pledged to sup­port the coun­try as it worked to “bring those re­spon­si­ble for this at­tack to jus­tice”.

Hezbol­lah’s po­lit­i­cal oppo- nents in Le­banon, in­clud­ing Sunni politi­cians, also con­demned the at­tacks.

Syria’s civil war is in­creas­ingly play­ing out as a proxy bat­tle be­tween re­gional ri­vals, in­clud­ing Iran and Saudi Ara­bia which sup­port op­pos­ing sides in the con­flict.

Law­mak­ers con­vened in Beirut for a sec­ond day yes­ter­day in the first ses­sion for more than a year.

The meet­ing aims to pass ur­gent fi­nan­cial laws to keep the state afloat. – Reuters

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