Lebanese bombing kills 15, wounds 40

August 14, 2008|By New York Times News Service

TRIPOLI, Lebanon - A bomb hidden in a briefcase tore through a bus packed with Lebanese soldiers on their way to work yesterday morning, killing 15 people, including nine soldiers, and wounding more than 40 people.

The bombing overshadowed news from Damascus that Syria and Lebanon would establish diplomatic relations for the first time since each country achieved independence from France in the 1940s. The announcement, at the start of a fence-mending mission by President Michel Suleiman of Lebanon, did not say when the countries would exchange ambassadors.

The Tripoli bombing was the deadliest attack in Lebanon in more than three years. It left a scene of carnage at rush hour in the crowded commercial center of this northern city at a bus stop where soldiers were known to catch buses to their posts farther south every morning.

"When we heard the blast, we wanted to hide," said Izzat Doghbi, the owner of a juice stand about 100 yards away. "I walked over and found a disaster - bodies on the ground, some mangled, some wounded. It was awful."

The explosion occurred amid relative political calm here, after a new power-sharing deal among Lebanon's divided factions in May. But tensions have lingered in Tripoli, where the Lebanese army killed many Islamist militants during a battle that raged for months last year in a Palestinian refugee camp.

The bomb was left in a briefcase on the street next to the bus, at a depot, the army said. It appears to have been aimed at the army, widely viewed as the closest thing to a neutral force in Lebanon's divided political scene.

No one claimed responsibility, but some Lebanese political figures said the bombing might have been revenge for the army's role in Nahr el-Bared, the Palestinian refugee camp. Fatah Islam, the Islamist group that fought the army there last year, has claimed responsibility for several small attacks on soldiers since then, including one that killed a soldier near Tripoli on May 31.

The group's leader, Shaker al-Absi, was never caught.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other Lebanese political figures vowed that yesterday's bombing would not intimidate the army or Lebanon's new Cabinet, which the parliament formally approved Tuesday.

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