Source AP ©

Beirut explosion leads to one killed and 12 injured

An explosion late Sunday across the street from a busy shopping mall killed a 63-year-old woman and injured 12 other people.

Rescuers reported six of the injuries were from flying debris and broken glass. Several cars were set ablaze or wrecked in the blast, which was heard across the city and surrounding hills.

Beirut and surrounding suburbs has been a series of explosions in the last two years, particularly targeting Christian areas in which the U.S.-backed majority coalition has blamed on Syria. The blast came after daylong battles between the Lebanese army and a suspected al-Qaeda-linked militant group in the northern port town of Tripoli that killed 22 soldiers and 17 militants.

The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., a major Christian TV station, said the woman was killed in the Beirut blast when the wall in her apartment collapsed on her from the impact of the explosion. Most of the casualties were in nearby buildings.

The explosion occurred across the street from the major ABC shopping center shortly before midnight (2100GMT) in Ashrafieh, an upscale neighborhood of the Christian sector of the Lebanese capital. The mall also has restaurants and movie theaters that operated late, particularly on Sunday, a weekend here.

The bomb caused a crater 1.5 meters (about 4 feet) deep and 3 meters (9 feet) wide in the road, and police officials said the explosives were estimated to weigh 10 kilograms (22 pounds). It was not clear whether it was placed under or inside a parked vehicle.

The blast started fires in parked vehicles and shattered car, shop and apartment windows. Other vehicles were collapsed from the impact of the explosion.

TV footage showed Red Cross workers helping an elderly man, whose head was wrapped in blood-soaked bandages. A woman in her night gown was being carried by a companion, in his pajamas.

The mall's owner, Robert Abu Fadil, said on television early Monday that crews will work all night to clean up the damage, the broken glass and gutted vehicles to open for business in the morning.

"We were expecting this kind of thing," he said on LBC TV from the scene, pointing to extra security measures the mall and other businesses have taken in recent months.

"For sure this will affect us in part, but we've been through more difficult times," he said. "But God is the Almighty. We will rebuild."

The most prominent recent deadly attack in Beirut was the near simultaneously bombings of commuter buses in the Christian heartland that killed three people on Feb. 13.

The same militant group in Sunday's Tripoli clashes, Fatah Islam, was blamed by authorities for the bus bombings, an accusation they have denied.

Sunday's explosion, the fourth in Ashrafieh in the last two years, also came as the U.N. Security Council is considering a draft resolution to impose the international tribunal in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri after Lebanon's government and the pro-Syrian opposition led by Hezbollah failed to agree on approving it in Beirut.

A U.N. investigation into the 2005 assassination also has been expanded to include the series of bombings anti-Syrian groups blame on Syria. A U.N. investigation has linked senior Syrian security officials and allies in the Lebanese security services to Hariri's 2005 truck bombing murder while Syria controlled Lebanon.

Damascus has denied involvement in Hariri's death and the other explosions, but Damascus was forced to withdraw its army from Lebanon after a 29-year presence two months after the assassination.

Cabinet minister Pierre Pharaon, whose constituency includes Ashrafieh, said the explosion aimed at showing that the approval of the international court would coincide with attempts to undermine Lebanon's security.

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