This is still Lebanon: Beirut's blast was another political assassination for a country far from 'free'
Wissam al-Hassan (R) , Lebanon's senior intelligence chief, is dead
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A huge car bomb exploded in a street in central Beirut during rush hour on Friday, killing at least three people and wounding around 90 others, Al Arabiya reported citing Lebanon’s Health Minister. However, the Lebanese News Agency put the number of those killed at 8.
A top Lebanese security official was killed in the car bombing in Beirut, Lebanon’s al-Jadeed television said.
Wissam al-Hassan, who was in charge of a top intelligence unit, was the brain behind uncovering a recent bomb plot that led to the arrest of a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician.
The explosion 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 Ashrafiyeh, a mostly Christian area, as smoke rose from the area. It occurred during rush hour, when many parents were picking up children from school, according to Reuters.
A security source initially said that only two people were dead and 46 others wounded, according to Reuters.
Several cars were destroyed by the explosion and the front of a multi-story 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.
An AFP photographer saw two apartment buildings devastated by the bombing in a narrow street near Sassin Square. One building was still ablaze as Red Cross workers evacuated bloodied casualties.
Balconies were torn off by the force of the blast, windows shattered and cars crushed by falling masonry.
“We heard a powerful explosion. The earth shook under our feet,” said Roland, 19, among a large crowd of army, rescue workers and onlookers at the scene.
Security forces blanketed the area.
Interior Minister Marwan Sharbel was at the scene of the first car bombing in Beirut since Jan. 25, 2008 when Lebanon’s top anti-terrorism investigator was slain along with three other people.
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 Shiite Islam.
Tension between Sunnis and Shiites 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 U.S. diplomatic car.
However fighting had broken out this year between supporters and opponents of Assad in the northern city of Tripoli.
What do you think? Has Beirut gone back to the future with the prospect of more political assassinations and bullet-ridden buildings the reality for 2012?