At least 37 people were killed and more than 181 wounded on Thursday after two suicide bomb blasts, claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, hit a crowded district in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
The blasts occurred almost simultaneously and struck a Shiite community center and a nearby bakery in the commercial and residential area of Borj al Barajneh, security sources said. A closely guarded Hezbollah-run hospital is also nearby.
Hezbollah vowed to continue its fight against “terrorists” the double attack the area, where it has a heavy presence, Reuters news agency reported.
“What happened here is a crime...this battle against terrorists will continue and it is a long war between us,” Hussein Khalil, an assistant to the group’s leader, said from the site of the explosions.
French President Francois Hollande on Thursday condemned a “despicable” attack, AFP reported.
“The president of the republic expresses his indignation and horror after the attack that killed several dozen people and wounded more than 100 this afternoon in the Burj al-Barajneh neighbourhood of Beirut,” he said in a statement issued by the presidency.
“The French share in the national mourning of the Lebanese. France is more than ever committed to peace, unity and stability in Lebanon,” Hollande said.
The bombings were the first attacks for more than a year in a stronghold of the Iran-backed movement, which has sent members to Syria to fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the country’s civil war.
Several bomb blasts struck Lebanon in June last year, in a spillover of violence linked to Syria.
The war in Lebanon’s larger neighbor, with which it shares a border of more than 300 kilometers, has ignited sectarian strife in the multi-confessional country, leading to bombings and fighting between supporters of the opposing sides in Syria.
Hezbollah supports Assad; Sunni militants support rebels fighting against him and his Shiite backers.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk gave the latest death toll. He also said a third suicide bomber had been killed by one of the explosions before he could detonate his own bomb. His body was found nearby.
Medics rushed to treat the wounded after the explosions, which damaged shopfronts and left the street stained with blood and littered with broken glass.
It was a blow to Hezbollah’s tight security measures in the area, which were strengthened following bombings last year. The army had also set up checkpoints around the southern suburb entrances.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salam condemned the attacks as “unjustifiable,” and called for unity against “plans to create strife” in the country, urging officials to overcome their differences.
The bombers struck as Lebanese lawmakers held a legislative session for the first time in over a year. An ongoing political crisis has left the country without a president for 17 months, with the government failing to take even basic decisions.
Religious leaders warned last year that in the absence of a head of state, sectarian strife was threatening a country that was gripped by its own civil war from 1975 to 1990.
[With Reuters and AFP]