Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blast and bomb scare rattle Beirutis

Blast and bomb scare rattle Beirutis
Security forces ring two neighborhoods as precaution
By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Almost three months after twin bus bombings in Ain Alaq and multiple discoveries of explosive devices set off a wave of anxiety in Lebanon, a small explosion at a vacant lot in Beirut and a subsequent bomb scare sparked panic among residents of two capital neighborhoods. No one was hurt in the explosion. Security forces received a report of an explosion at an empty lot near a cemetery in Tahwita at around 9 a.m. The explosion caused panic as police and soldiers deployed in the area and investigators began sifting the dirt for evidence. "It was an old rusty B2 grenade that went off due to the heat," an Internal Security Forces spokesperson later told The Daily Star. "It wasn't serious and it didn't cause any injuries or damage."

Earlier in the day, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation had reported that a stick of dynamite or a concussion bomb had been tossed from a speeding car into the lot. Not long after, security forces received a report of an abandoned suitcase at a bus stop in Hazmiyeh, near the site of the explosion. The suitcase was found to be filled with clothes, but a heavy security presence and news of a possible bomb in the area caused a massive traffic jam. Army troops surrounded both the Tahwita and Hazmiyeh neighborhoods as they investigated both the explosion site and the abandoned bag.

Witnesses said that two fire engines were sent to the site of the explosion, which was also near the Order of Physicians offices and a number of government buildings. Security reports said that a fire in the lot or nearby may have caused the explosion. In Hazmiyeh, a witness told The Daily Star that a man was seen leaving the bag before boarding a bus. "We were scared, as the situation is not stable in the country and bombs go off all the time," said the witness, who identified himself as Samer, and who was working at a construction site at the time of the incident.

In addition to the summer 2006 war with Israel, Lebanon has been rocked by a series of explosions since late 2004, many targeting anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. The largest of the explosions was the February 2005 truck bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri near the St. Georges Hotel. The Ain Alaq blasts on February 13 killed three people and wounded 20 others.

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