Wednesday 18 October 2017

Four killed as suicide bombers strike in Beirut

A view shows the Iranian cultural centre (L) at the site of an explosion in the southern suburbs of Beirut
A view shows the Iranian cultural centre (L) at the site of an explosion in the southern suburbs of Beirut

Associated Press

Two suicide bombers blew up their cars near an Iranian cultural centre in Beirut, killing at least four people and wounding scores, including children in an orphanage, in the latest attack targeting Shia areas in Lebanon.

An al-Qa'ida-linked group claimed responsibility for the bombings, saying they were retaliation for Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian war alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces. The Shia militant organisation is backed by Iran.

But the attack – like a dozen other similar bombings since July against Shia areas of Lebanon – killed and wounded civilians. They included a dozen boys and girls living in a home for abandoned and orphaned children, said Dr Hussam Bitar, a surgeon at Al-Zahraa hospital, where the youngsters were treated.

The blasts have embittered and angered residents, who say they are facing an unknown enemy seeking to kill them because of their faith.

"You can't imagine this from somebody you live with, somebody who could be your neighbour," Dr Bitar said.

Dr Bitar's pants were stained with the blood of one of the orphaned girls who suffered shrapnel injuries. "She couldn't even remember her name. Did the bomber think of that orphanage?" he asked.

The blast set cars and trees ablaze and shattered the windows of nearby buildings. Mangled metal hung from a smashed building that once held a pharmacy, a clothing shop and a well-known sweet shop, Gondoline. Blood and tattered clothes lay on the ground amid the charred remains of six cars.

"I thought it was an earthquake," said Sam Hasna, a Lebanese-Canadian citizen and owner of the Gondoline. "Everything was on fire. The whole store had crashed down. I saw shattered people, shattered cars, and I collapsed."

Mr Hasna later discovered one employee was killed and another was in critical condition.

"I am trying to reserve the first ticket back to Canada," said Mr Hasna, who spent years building a life in Lebanon. "We tried, we tried, we tried."

The bombings are causing panic, Dr Bitar said. The Al-Zahra hospital recently tightened security, posting guards with assault rifles. He said jumpy guards nearly killed two men after the blast, fearing they were more suicide bombers.

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