August 14, 2008

Lebanese Military Apparently Target of Deadly Blast

By Robert F. Worth and Tom Rachman

A bomb hidden in a briefcase exploded on a bus in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli during morning rush hour on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and wounding 30 others, the Lebanese Army said.

Lebanon has suffered a wave of bombings in recent years, including the 2005 killing of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, which led to political upheaval in the country. However, the attack Wednesday was the first large-scale bombing in months.

At least nine of the dead were soldiers, and the attack apparently targeted the military.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Officials described it as a terrorist attack.

"The army and security forces will not yield to attempts to terrorize them with attacks and crimes," President Michel Suleiman, a former army chief, said in a statement.

The bombing in Tripoli, Lebanon's second-largest city, came about a year after an extended battle at a nearby refugee camp between Islamic militants and the army, whose commander at the time was Suleiman. Three months of fierce fighting at the Nahr al-Bared camp left several hundred dead and ended with the militants' ouster.

The militant group involved in that fighting, Fatah al Islam, made up of radical Sunnis inspired by Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for an attack in May that killed a soldier in northern Lebanon.

After the bombing Wednesday, suspicions turned again on the group. However, sectarian violence has also struck Tripoli recently, pitting Sunnis against Alawites, a small offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Clashes between gunmen from the two sides have left at least 22 people dead since June, and the army has deployed in the city to halt the bloodshed.

Separately, Suleiman was scheduled to visit Lebanon's neighbor, Syria, on Wednesday, and some media reports suggested that the attack might have been intended to undermine his trip.

The planned meeting with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria - the first such encounter with a Lebanese president in several years - was seen as a sign of improved ties between the two countries.

In July, Assad and Suleiman agreed to open embassies in the capitals of the two countries, at a conference of Mediterranean countries in Paris that was seen as ending the diplomatic isolation of Syria that followed the assassination of Hariri.

Relations were deeply strained after Hariri's killing, which some in Lebanon blamed on Syria. Public uproar in Lebanon and international pressure led Syria to end its 29-year military presence in the country after the 2005 assassination.


Robert F. Worth reported from Beirut, Lebanon, and Tom Rachman reported from Paris.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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