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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Bomb blast near bank rocks Lebanese capital

Police say the bomb was placed in a flower pot in front of the Blom Bank branch in the west Beirut district of Verdun.
Lebanese security forces and onlookers at the scene of a car bomb explosion in Beirut on June 12, 2016. Anwar Amro / AFP
Lebanese security forces and onlookers at the scene of a car bomb explosion in Beirut on June 12, 2016. Anwar Amro / AFP

BEIRUT // Lebanon’s capital was rocked by a bomb blast just after iftar on Sunday that injured two people, according to the Lebanese Red Crescent.

Lebanon’s police chief, Maj Gen Ibrahim Basbous said the bomb was placed in a flower pot in front of the Blom Bank branch in the west Beirut district of Verdun. The National News Agency, which earlier reported that the bomb was placed under a car, said 15 kilos of explosive were used.

Photos circulated by Lebanese news outlets showed the street littered with branches from trees and broken glass. Nearby buildings and vehicles were damaged, but the explosion’s force appeared to be limited.

The timing and location of the blast suggest it was not meant to cause mass casualties or assassinate a political figure, unlike other bombings in Lebanon’s capital in recent years. The bomb went off just after 8pm, when many in west Beirut would be indoors breaking their Ramadan fast.

Lebanon’s interior minister Nohad Machnouk said that “politically it is clear” the target was Blom Bank and had nothing to do with ISIL, which carried out the most recent major bombing in the capital.

The apparent targeting of the bank quickly raised speculation in Beirut that the attack could be linked to the recent suspension of 100 accounts linked to Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shiite political party and paramilitary organisation, by Lebanon’s central bank. The move was made in compliance with new anti-Hizbollah legislation passed by the United States in December last year.

Last week, Hizbollah’s parliamentary bloc lashed out at the suspension of the accounts, calling it “blackmail” and an attempt to get movement to change its position on US “tyranny and injustice”.

Since Syria’s civil war began, Lebanon has been targeted by a number of bombings, many of them claimed by Syria’s Al Qaeda branch Jabhat Al Nusra or by ISIL.

The last major bombing in Beirut came in November of last year, when ISIL suicide bombers attacked a market street in the Hizbollah-controlled suburb of Bourj Al Barajneh, killing more than 40 people.

In recent weeks, Lebanese authorities said they have busted a number of ISIL cells across the country. The latest arrests coincided with a visibly increased security presence on the streets of Beirut.

jwood@thenational.ae

* with additional reporting from Reuters