25 January 2008

(#4) Hazmieh Explosion (75kg) - update

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- An explosion in a Beirut suburb has killed Lebanon's top anti-terror investigating officer and his driver, sources with the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and a government minister told CNN.

The Lebanese Red Cross said four other people were killed and 20 wounded, the state-run National News Agency said, according to The Associated Press. CNN has yet to confirm a final death toll though.



"It was a powerful blast," CNN's Anthony Mills said. "I was less than half a mile away when it occurred and I felt the shock waves in the car I was traveling in.

"I arrived on the scene several minutes later and there was widespread damage -- several vehicles that had been reduced to hulks of burning, twisted metal ... debris scattered over a wide area."

The explosion killed Capt. Wissam Eid, the sources said.

Hazmiyeh is a Christian neighborhood northeast of the capital.

Attacks of this nature have escalated as Lebanon has been in the midst of a political crisis as pro- and anti-Syrian lawmakers in parliament are locked in a battle to elect a president.

The nation has been without a president since November 23, when the pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his term.

Last week, a car bomb struck a U.S. Embassy vehicle as it traveled along a coastal highway north of Beirut, killing at least three Lebanese civilian bystanders. The driver of the embassy vehicle sustained minor injuries, and the sole passenger walked away unscathed.

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Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.