Lebanese PM urges national unity after bomb attack

The Lebanese branch of al-Nusra Front claimed the deadly explosion in the town of Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold

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Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati denounced a deadly suicide attack that struck the northeastern town of Hermel on Saturday, calling for national unity in the face of terrorism.

"Once again, the hands of terror have targeted a Lebanese area and indulged in their crime against innocent civilians,” Miqati said in a statement on Saturday night, reported Lebanon’s Daily Star.

“We can only reiterate our appeal to everyone to unite their ranks to protect the country and its people,” he added.

A suicide bomber driving a vehicle blew himself up in the town of Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold, killing at least four people on Saturday, the interior ministry said.

Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister, Marwan Charbel, said the suicide bomber was driving a Grand Cherokee and blew himself up at a gas station. The state news agency said the site of the explosion was near a school and a building housing a charity connected to a prominent cleric in the Shiite-dominated town.

It was the second explosion in the town of Hermel in less than three weeks.

A Twitter account purportedly run by the Lebanese branch of al-Nusra Front, a Syrian rebel group with links to al-Qaeda, said it had carried out the attack, but it was not possible to verify the claim.

The Lebanese affiliate has also claimed responsibility for last weekend's rocket attack on Hermel and suicide bombings in January that killed three people in Hermel and four people in Beirut's southern suburbs.

In earlier statements, al-Nusra Front in Lebanon threatened to attack Hezbollah outposts and strongholds, including civilian population centers.

Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam described the attack as a “terrorist act" of cowardice, according to the Daily Star.

"[I] urge Hermel residents to exercise self-restraint despite their deep pains,” Salam said in a statement.

"This terrorist attack should be an incentive to unite, prevent strife, and show support to the Army and the security forces,” he said.

Salam also called on security forces to exert all efforts to search and bring to justice the perpetrators.

Charbel told Reuters in separate statements that the situation in Lebanon was “unstable and getting worse every day.”

“This matter is very, very dangerous,” he said. “It is bigger than the security apparatus.”

Suicide bombers often use stolen vehicles, and Charbel said up to 400 cars had been stolen in Lebanon in the last six months.

“This is a strange path for Lebanese, because most of the explosions we see are carried out by Lebanese,” he said.

Shortly after the explosion in Hermel, a bomb went off near an al-Manar office in the Beirut neighborhood of Ouzai, a security source said. It was not clear whether the Hezbollah-run television station had been targeted or whether anyone was hurt.

Qassim Kassir, a Lebanese analyst close to Hezbollah, said explosions targeting Hezbollah’s areas in Lebanon came after a recent statement by Syria’s al-Nusra Front urging Muslim Sunnis to abandon areas where the Shiites live.

“No Hezbollah member has been killed in all these previous bombings. All the casualties were civilians and this shows that those responsible don’t have any specific target other than the arbitrary killing of civilians.”

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