Beirut: A huge car bomb exploded in a street in central Beirut during rush hour on Friday, killing at least two people and wounding 46, witnesses and security sources said. It was not immediately clear if the explosion targeted any political figure in Lebanon's divided community but it occurred at a time of heightened tension between Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the Syria conflict.
The bomb exploded in the street where the office of the anti-Assad Christian Phalange Party is located. Ambulances rushed to the scene of the blast near Sassine Square in Ashafriyeh, a mostly Christian area, as smoke rose from the area. It occurred during rush hour, when many parents were picking up children from school. The security source confirmed two dead. At least 46 people were wounded, another security source said.
Several cars were destroyed by the explosion and the front of a multi-storey building was badly damaged, with tangled wires and metal railings crashing to the ground. Residents ran about in panic looking for relatives while others helped carry the wounded to ambulances. Security forces blanketed the area.
The war in neighboring Syria, which has killed 30,000 people so far, has pitted mostly Sunni insurgents against President Bashar al-Assad, who is from the Alawite sect linked to Shi'ite Islam. Tension between Sunnis and Shi'ites has been rumbling in Lebanon ever since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war but reignited after the Syria conflict erupted.
It reached its peak when former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a Sunni, was killed in 2005. Hariri supporters accused Syria and then Hezbollah of killing him - a charge they both deny. An international tribunal accused several Hezbollah members of involvement in the murder. Hezbollah's political opponents, who have for months accused it of aiding Assad's forces - have warned that its involvement in Syria could ignite sectarian tension of the civil war.
The last bombing in Beirut was in 2008 when three people were killed in an explosion which damaged a US diplomatic car. However fighting had broken out this year between supporters and opponents of Assad in the northern city of Tripoli.