Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lebanon bomb kills 16, including 7 soldiers

Lebanon bomb kills 16, including 7 soldiers
By Nazih Siddiq

TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) - A bomb targeted a civilian bus in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Wednesday, killing at least 16 people, including seven soldiers, security sources said. The bomb, which wounded at least 40 people, was the deadliest attack on the army since its battle with al Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants in the north last year. The Red Cross ferried casualties from the site of the blast. The ground was spattered with blood and covered in shards of glass, television pictures showed. No one claimed responsibility for the attack in Lebanon's second largest city, which has been the scene of fighting between security forces and Islamist militants and sectarian violence linked to the country's political troubles.

President Michel Suleiman, who had been army chief until his election in May, described the bombing as a terrorist attack. "The army and security forces will not yield to attempts to terrorize them with attacks and crimes," Suleiman said in a statement. Suleiman led the army during 15 weeks of fighting last year with the al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam group, which was based at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli. The army lost 170 soldiers while putting down the insurrection. Fatah al-Islam, a group which drew fighters from across the Arab world, claimed responsibility for a bomb attack that killed a soldier in north Lebanon in late May. Suleiman is scheduled to visit Damascus later on Wednesday to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Tripoli attack was the latest blow to stability in Lebanon, which has suffered a wave of bombings and political killings since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Qatar mediated a deal to in May defuse a political conflict between the U.S.-backed majority coalition and an opposition alliance led by Hezbollah, a group supported by Syria and Iran. But the sides have yet to fully reconcile their differences. At least 22 people have been killed in Tripoli in recent months in fighting between Sunni and Alawite gunmen in violence linked to lingering political tensions. A new national unity government, formed as part of a deal aimed at defusing the country's crisis, won a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday.

(Writing by Tom Perry, editing by Mary Gabriel)

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