At least 43 people were killed and more than 240 wounded on Thursday in two suicide bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State in a crowded residential district in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a stronghold of the Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah.
The claim, which followed the usual format of IS official statements online, said the first blast was caused by explosives planted on a motorbike, after which a suicide bomber set off an explosive belt.
The blasts occurred almost simultaneously and struck a Shi’ite community centre 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.
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 neighbour, with which it shares a border of more than 300km (190 miles), 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 Islamists support rebels fighting against him and his Shi’ite backers.
Interior minister Nouhad Machnouk 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 after the 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 inputs from AFP)