Bombs kill 2, hurt 18 on buses in Lebanese village

Government blames Syria for planning attacks in Ain Alak

February 14, 2007|By Raed el Rafei and Megan K. Stack | Raed el Rafei and Megan K. Stack,LOS ANGELES TIMES

AIN ALAK, LEBANON -- The bombs went off as the pair of commuter buses rumbled through a rainy rush hour in this tiny Christian village yesterday, the blasts echoing like thunder and killing three people in the latest stroke of violence to rip through a rapidly destabilizing Lebanon.

Word of the attacks rattled this country just as people were bracing for today's commemoration of the two-year anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's death. Many here still believe Syria was behind the car bomb that killed Hariri and are still pushing hard for an international tribunal to try the assassins. At a time when the nation stands politically paralyzed and divided over who should run the country, some fear that today's observance could spark more street clashes.

The buses were packed with students, blue collar workers, Sri Lankan housemaids and women making their way to Christian theology lessons. The dead included an Egyptian man, a 40-year-old woman and an 18-year-old man, the Interior Ministry said. At least 18 people were wounded, some of them badly maimed.

"I hate all the politicians," said Antoine Nader, 30, a pharmacist who dashed from his nearby shop after the first blast to find a bloody scene. "I wish they were all in that bus. It's a pity that those who paid the price this time were mostly poor."

Last night, supporters of the U.S.-backed government accused Syria of planning the attacks.

This tiny, pine-shaded mountain village lies just outside of Bikfaya, the ancestral homeland and political stronghold of the powerful Gemayel family, a prominent Christian dynasty. Last week, former President Amin Gemayel visited President Bush in the White House, sparking rumors that he might have ambitions to resume the presidency. His son, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, was gunned down a few months ago.

The bus bombings tapped deep into a traumatized national psyche, dredging up harrowing memories of the 15-year civil war, which began in earnest in 1975 with a massacre of 27 Palestinian civilians aboard a bus. The Gemayel family's Phalangist militia carried out the killings.

"I am raging with anger on the inside," said Elie Mbarak, 40, a businessman who paced anxiously outside the operating room as surgeons worked over his sister. She had taken the bus from their hometown to go shopping; her chest bones were broken and her hair was burned off in the blast.

"I don't want my children to live through this," said Mbarak, who wore a cross. "Lebanon is not for people like us anymore."

"They want us to emigrate, but we will stay here," said Rosette Gemayel, 44, another relative of the wounded woman. "If a civil war breaks out, I will fight, I will fight against all these traitors."

Memories of the civil war and growing fears that fighting will erupt once more among Lebanon's religions sects have been stirred by a political crisis that has sharpened sectarian tensions. The Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah and its allies, including popular Christian leader Gen. Michel Aoun, have launched a fierce and popular campaign against the U.S.-backed government.

The opposition dismisses Lebanon's leaders as illegitimate puppets of the United States and has taken to the streets to demand a greater share of power. But the government, bolstered by support from the U.S. and France, has dug in and refused to resign.

Raed el Rafei and Megan K. Stack write for the Los Angeles Times.

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