The blast came as a court at The Hague began hearings on the 2005
killing of Lebanese statesman Rafik al-Hariri. The trial in absentia
of four Hezbollah members, once billed as demonstrating a new start
for Lebanon under the rule of law, has been overshadowed by violence
spilling over from Syria.
The car bomb went off near a local government building in the centre
of Hermel, at the northern end of the Bekaa Valley, an area
populated mainly by Shi'ite Muslims from whom Hezbollah draws its
support. The explosion shattered windows and damaged nearby
buildings, witnesses said.
A Reuters photographer saw body parts strewn across the street and
people with shrapnel wounds in the area of the blast. Hospitals were
calling on people to give blood.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but it fit a pattern
of attacks by rival sectarian groups on each other's strongholds
that has been amplified by Syria's civil war.
Hezbollah, Lebanon's most powerful military and political movement,
has sent fighters and advisers to aid President Bashar al-Assad, a
member of Syria's Alawite minority, in his battle with mainly Sunni
rebels. Both Hezbollah and Assad are supported by the Shi'ite
religious rulers of Iran.
Lebanon's National News Agency said four people were killed in the
blast, including the bomber, and a further 26 were wounded. A
security source confirmed the death toll.
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and caretaker Prime Minister
Najib Mikati, both Sunnis as required under Lebanon's confessional
political system, condemned the bombing.
"Once again the hand of terrorism has extended into a dear area of
Lebanon to claim the lives of innocent citizens," the national news
agency quoted Salam as saying.
Salam, who has been trying to form a government since Mikati
resigned in March, called for an "improvement in the political
climate" so Lebanon could "close the road to those who benefit from
the weakness of the domestic situation".
SYRIA OVERSHADOWS TRIAL
Lebanon is still very much subject to the conflicts between
political factions backed by rival domestic, regional and global
powers that fuelled a 15-year civil war up to 1990 and provided the
backdrop to the car bombing that killed Hariri, a Sunni businessman
and former prime minister.
Officials affiliated with Hezbollah on one side and the Future
movement led by Hariri's son Saad on the other have failed to agree
on a government since Mikati resigned.
[to top of second column]
Political assassinations go on. Last month, the Future movement's
Mohamed Chatah, another Sunni ex-minister, was killed by a car bomb
in downtown Beirut not far from the site of Hariri's death.
Hezbollah-run areas have been hit by bomb and rocket attacks claimed
by Sunni militants. Four car bombs have exploded in Hezbollah's
stronghold of south Beirut since July. Two suicide bombings at the
Iranian embassy in November killed at least 25 people including an
Different sectarian priorities were apparent in Lebanese media on
Thursday. Hezbollah's Al Manar channel focused on the Hermel
bombing. Saad Hariri's Future Television broadcast live from the
special tribunal at The Hague.
Four Hezbollah members accused of plotting the attack on February
14, 2005 that killed 22 people are being tried, though none has been
The tribunal was set up under the auspices of the United Nations in
the face of opposition from Hezbollah. It denies any role in the
assassination of Hariri, who enjoyed support from Sunni-ruled Saudi
Arabia, Iran's main regional adversary.
The trial prosecutor, Canadian lawyer Norman Farrell, told the court
on Thursday that the Beirut bombing was intended to spread panic
throughout Lebanon and employed far more explosive than was need to
kill the main target, Hariri.
Establishing the tribunal was one of the most contentious issues in
Lebanese politics for years, but it has been much overshadowed now
by the spread of violence from Syria.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz and Erika Solomon in
Beirut; writing by Alexander Dziadosz; editing by Elizabeth Piper
and Alastair Macdonald)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.