Explosions rocked the area outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon on Tuesday morning with early reports saying as many as 23 people have been killed and close to 150 injured.
As the Associated Press reports:
Twin suicide bombers detonated explosions outside the Iranian Embassy in a mainly Shiite district of the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, killing 23 people, including the Iranian cultural attaché, apparently in retaliation for the Lebanese group Hezbollah's support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The bombings appeared to be another strike in an intensifying proxy battle over Syria's civil war that is rattling its smaller neighbor Lebanon. An al-Qaida-linked Sunni extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying more would follow unless the Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah withdraws fighters that have helped Assad's military score key victories over Syrian rebels.
The mid-morning blasts hit the upscale neighborhood of Janah, a Hezbollah stronghold, leaving bodies and pools of blood on the glass-strewn street amid burning cars. More than 140 people were wounded, officials said.
A Lebanese security official said the first suicide attacker was on a motorcycle that carried two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of explosives. He blew himself up at the large black main gate of the Iranian mission, damaging the three-story facility, the official said.
Less than two minutes later, a second suicide attacker driving a car rigged with 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of explosives struck about 10 meters (yards) away, the official said. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
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And the New York Times adds:
Lebanese media reported that responsibility for the embassy attack was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an offshoot of Al Qaeda with branches in several countries in the region, including Lebanon. The claim could not immediately be confirmed.
The Iranian ambassador appeared on news channels blaming Israel for the blast, which Israeli officials denied. More broadly, though, Lebanese officials and residents alike placed the bombing in the context of the Syrian war, which Lebanon’s political factions have fueled even as they call on citizens to keep the fighting outside of Lebanon.
Hezbollah members blamed what they call an alliance between Israel, the West and Islamic extremists that they accuse of targeting Hezbollah, Syria and Iran in retaliation for their anti-Israel stance. Members of the Future Movement, Hezbollah’s chief rival, said the bombing was provoked by Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, which is also Lebanon’s most powerful political party, declared in a speech last week that the group would continue to fight in Syria for as long as necessary. Hezbollah says it is fighting in Syria to protect the region from an insurgency it says is dominated by takfiris, a reference to radical Islamic groups, usually Sunni, that declare Shiites and other opponents apostates.