Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed at least four people and wounded dozens more in the southern suburbs of Beirut Tuesday morning.
“[The attack] was a response to the massacres by Iran’s party [Hezbollah] on the children of Syria and the children of Ersal,” the statement said.
The Lebanese health ministry announced that at least four people were killed and 46 wounded in the attack.
The blast took place on Arid Street at 10:55 am, only about 50 meters from the site of another suicide attack less than three weeks ago in the district of Haret Hreik.
The Lebanese Army said the blast was caused by three 120 mm long shells that detonated in the trunk of a Kia driven by a suicide bomber.
An undetonated suicide belt and remains of the suicide bomber were also found at the blast site, the army statement said.
Multiple witnesses said the car was speeding down Arid Street before it detonated.
The four victims of the blast were identified as 18-year-old Maria Jawhari, 19-year-old Ali Bashir, 50-year-old Ahmed al-Obeidi, and Khodr Srour.
The identity of the suicide bomber was not immediately known.
Large plumes of smoke could be seen rising above the southern suburbs, and huge crowds gathered around the explosion site as emergency services attempted to remove those wounded from the area.
Residents of the neighborhood remained defiant after the bombing.
“This is our home and we will never leave it. We were born here and God willing, we will die here.” Houssam Wehbe, 21, told Al-Akhbar at the site of the blast. “Even if there are a 100 bombs in one day, it strengthens us, and we carry on.”
Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam condemned the “terrorist act” in a statement. He called on “the Lebanese to fortify the domestic front” and “to face this act with wisdom and to fortify Lebanon at the security and political levels.”
Right-wing Phalanges party MP Sami Gemayel in comments to New TV argued that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria was putting Lebanon at risk.
“The only solution for us is to pull out of the regional stage. The Lebanese are paying a high price,” he said.
It was a sentiment not shared by the residents of Haret Hreik.
“The situation is scary. A couple weeks ago the bomb happened here, and before that there was one further down the road. There is no solution to this,” Hussein Fakih, 25, told Al-Akhbar.
“If Hezbollah leaves Syria, [the culprits] will come to Lebanon. They will bring their war here. Hezbollah went to Syria to prevent this from happening. We [in the neighborhood] are all with Hezbollah,” he added.
Thirty-year-old Nabih Salem interjected: “If Hezbollah wasn’t in Syria, the situation would be worse.”
“You have to look at who is benefiting from this to understand why this could be happening,” the restaurant worker added. “Israel used to put car bombs in this area a long time ago, way before Hezbollah was in Syria, and they are the main benefactors still.”
“Someone is steering these suicide bombers. A large country is behind this. They are putting ideas in there heads that if you blow yourself up, you will go to heaven,” Salem added.
The residents intermittently broke out in chants following the explosion. At one point some gunmen fired automatic weapons in the air for reasons that weren’t clear.
Some of them were angry, but all residents who spoke to Al-Akhbar rejected the notion that these attacks would draw them into a sectarian battle.
“In Lebanon we all live together. Shias live with Sunnis. Shias lives with Christians, Christians with Sunnis. But no one can live with salafis,” Abdallah Bou Melhem, a 20-year-old university student, said.
“We are not scared of this. We got used to it,” he added.
The Disaster Risk Management Unit (DRM) called on citizens to stay away from the blast scene in order to ease the rescue work and the Lebanese army has currently mobilized to cordoned off the scene.
[Kamal Hujeizi (left), owner of a small market damaged in the blast, talks to a reporter inside his store.]
“What am I supposed to fear? What could be more severe than death?” Kamal Hujeizi said inside his small market only meters from the blast site as customers bought juice and cigarettes.
“Just yesterday I fixed this window,” he said, pointing at glass that was replaced after the blast earlier this month. “Now I have to replace this one,” he added, gesturing towards the shattered glass and goods strewn across the floor.
“Hopefully I’ll take my family and leave this country,” Hujeizi, a father of three in his fifties, said.
The vehicle used in the blast was identified as a silver 2010 Kia Sportage, stolen last October from its owner Youssef Kalass in the area of Ghazir, north of Beirut.
“I still have the keys to the car,” Kalass told Al Jadeed television. “It was stolen from outside my building around 10:00 am the same day I was going to pay my yearly registration fees.”
Tuesday’s explosion was the sixth to hit Lebanon’s capital and its southern suburbs since July 9, when a car bomb wounded 53 people in Dahiyeh’s Bir al-Abed neighborhood.
On August 15 a massive car bomb exploded on a busy public road between the neighborhoods of Roueiss and Bir Abed in the southern suburbs, killing 27 people wounding more than 100.
At least 23 people were killed when two suicide bombers detonated themselves outside the Iranian embassy in the southern suburb of Beirut.
Last Friday a massive car bomb killed eight in downtown Beirut, among them, Shatah, who was the first political figure to be assassinated since an October 2012 blast killed Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan in Beirut’s Ashrafieh district.
And on January 2, a suicide bomber killed at least five people in Haret Hreik about 50 meters from the site of Tuesday’s explosion.
On August 23, twin explosions killed at least 43 people outside two mosques in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli.