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Shopping mall blast near Beirut kills three

Tuesday, March 22, 2005 Posted: 11:32 PM EST (0432 GMT)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- A bomb has ripped through a shopping mall in a predominantly Christian area north of Beirut, Lebanon, killing three people and wounding at least two others, police said.

It was the third bombing in six weeks in Lebanon, which has been tumultuous since a bombing killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last month.

Video from the scene of Wednesday's blast showed the mall heavily damaged -- with glass, concrete and other debris strewn inside the shopping center and throughout the nearby street.

Police cordoned off the area, and an investigation is under way. There has been no claim of responsibility.

Police said the three people killed were security personnel at the mall, located about 12 miles north of Beirut.

The bombing comes on the heels of a similar blast just four days ago, when a car bomb exploded in another Christian area, sheering off part of a multistory office building. Nobody was killed, but it raised concerns about more violence in the volatile Lebanese capital.

No suspects have been arrested or identified in that blast or in the bombing that killed Hariri.

Hariri's assassination has resulted in massive demonstrations against Syria's troop presence in Lebanon and the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami's government.

Karami stepped down February 28 under intense pressure following Hariri's killing. But he was reappointed by parliament to bring together both opposition and loyalist politicians in a Cabinet to lead Lebanon to general elections scheduled for May.

Hariri was the chief opposition figure in Lebanon who spearheaded the push for Syrian troops and intelligence officers to leave Lebanon. That movement culminated in the largest demonstration in the nation's history last week, with an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people cramming the streets, chanting, "Get out Syria!"

The demonstration came one month to the day after Hariri's assassination.

Syria began pulling its 14,000 troops to the Bekaa Valley near the border March 8, and vowed to bring all the troops and intelligence officials across the border into Syria later on.

After Saturday's bombing, pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud urged Lebanon's divided politicians to begin immediate talks.


Sadler: Lebanese resisting sectarian violence

Tuesday, March 22, 2005 Posted: 10:25 PM EST (0325 GMT)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- A bomb has ripped through a shopping mall in a predominantly Christian area north of Beirut, Lebanon, early Wednesday, killing three people and wounding at least two others.

CNN's Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler told CNN Anchor Hugh Riminton the bomb caused extensive damage to a shopping complex in the late largely commercial district of Kaslik.

BRENT SADLER: Local television has been showing chaotic pictures of emergency workers and security personnel scrambling through wreckage in an attempt to find victims, some of whom were buried under rubble and broken glass.

The explosion comes just days after a similar overnight attack, that also hit a mainly Christian residential neighborhood just a few miles north of the capital. Eleven people were injured in that attack, no one was arrested. This latest explosion, as I say, comes at a time of political paralysis between pro-Syrian administrators and the country's anti-Syrian political opposition and amid a withdrawal of Syrian troop and intelligence services from Lebanon.

HUGH RIMINTON: Brent as you say, if the aim is to stir up sectarian violence, who has most to gain from that? Who might be motivated to do it? and also, might they succeed?

SADLER: Well there is plenty of speculation Hugh, but no hard facts. Many in the pro-Syrian camp have been saying that the troop pull-out might trigger violence among Lebanese, especially as Syrian forces, it's argued, have helped guarantee security in this country ... The opposition though have been warning for weeks that attempts to destabilize this country and promote inter-communal violence, reminiscent of Lebanon's civil war that ended some 14 years ago, might also become a feature of Lebanon's enlarging crisis.

RIMINTON: Brent give us a feel for it there, if you can. Obviously there is a sense that perhaps Lebanon is teetering towards the brink of an abyss. Do you believe that there is a real and genuine danger now, that that might be what lies ahead?

SADLER: Well, many people I spoke to during the last blast were determined, adamant, that these sort of attacks, and they were expecting more if this is in the same sort of series, would not trigger inter-communal sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims and many in the opposition are like minded.

They say that they will not be pushed into a war between the Lebanese. This is a struggle for the opposition, between Lebanese and Syrian interests that are colliding in this country right now. So most commentators say that while there is to be expected a series of attacks to provoke, destabilize security here, the chances of this country falling into a civil conflict, that really was ruinous for 15 years ... many commentators believe that the Lebanese have got beyond the conditions that forced them into that conflict with each other and that they will not be dragged into sectarian violence.

But these sort of attacks certainly are worrying very many, many people and clearly from what you see in commercial areas and restaurants and shopping areas, clearly business has been dropping in a country that has spent the last 15 years trying to shed its image of being a one-time terror capital of the world.

RIMINTON: Brent, as you say two bombs in the last few days, this one that has killed at least three people on the reports that are coming through, with the Syrians pulling out. Who do people look to for their security in Lebanon today?

SADLER: This is the big issue. Up until now the Syrians have essentially been the prime and security force working hand in hand with the Lebanese military and Lebanese intelligence services. By fracturing that close working relationship, said the pro-Syrian camp, it risks destabilization of the country.

Essentially now it's the Lebanese army, the internal security forces and Lebanon's own intelligence services that are the guardians of security in this country but you also have Hezbollah, regarded by the international community as a militia, that should be disarmed, and regarded by the U.S. as a terrorist organization ...

So it's amid these pressures, it's amid the pressures of who was behind the assassination some five weeks ago of the former Lebanese prime minister Raffi Hariri, that there have been these two attacks within the past week. A United Nations report, from a team of investigators that was here, is expected later this week.