Fear grips north Lebanon after explosion

Fear prevailed Saturday among the residents of Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli a few hours after a powerful explosion ripped through one of its streets killing at least two people and wounding 20 others.

"We are now consumed by fear that our area is heading towards turmoil," said Ahmed al-Jisr, a resident of Tripoli, 100 kilometres north of Beirut.

Tripoli woke up to a huge explosion at 5:30 am (0230 GMT) on Syria street in the Bab al-Tabbaneh area, a heavily populated Sunni Muslim neighborhood. Most of those injured were women and children.

According to police sources in Tripoli, the blast resulted from a 20-kilo charge of heavy explosives attached to a timer and planted in a special lift owned by a handicapped resident of the targeted Eid building.

Ambulances rushed to evacuate casualties from the building, but rescuers were hindered by sniper fire that hit the area a few minutes after the blast took place, according to local residents.

"The sniper fire came from the area of Baal Mohsen which is controlled by Alwaites, who are backed by (Shiite opposition group) Hezbollah," said a resident.

The scene of the blast was still heavily monitored by the Lebanese army due to the tensions raised by the attack, which targeted a residential apartment building, the Eid building.

"I am still in shock, most of my neighbors are listed in critical condition in a Tripoli hospital," said a veiled lady who identified herself as Nadia.

"Most of the casualties are children who were wounded by flying glass from the heavy explosion," she said.

The explosion totally destroyed one floor of the Eid building, and at least four apartments were heavily damaged as well as several stores on the ground floor. Cars parked nearby were also damaged.

Shocked residents, still in their pyjamas, were preparing to leave the area for safer areas.

Last week, the area witnessed heavy clashes between Sunni followers of the ruling majority and Alwaites. Ten people were killed and 55 wounded.

Tripoli Member of Parliament (MP) Mustafa Alloush said the situation was "very tense" and criticized the army for "not fully exercising its role."

Another Tripoli MP Mosbah Ahdab, who belongs to the ruling majority, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that "the situation is deteriorating drastically in Tripoli."

Ahdab warned of more security breaches and called on the Lebanese army to impose security and order in the area.

Tripoli is dominated by Lebanon's anti-Syrian, Sunni-led majority coalition. The Alawites, whose faith is an offshoot of Shia Islam, have close ties to Syria and the Lebanese opposition, which is led by Hezbollah.

In a phone call with Prime Minister-designate Fouad Seniora, Sheikh Malek al-Shaar, the Sunni mufti of Tripoli, called for more troops to maintain peace in the city, the National News Agency reported.

A Qatar-mediated accord in May ended 18 months of political conflict between the governing coalition and the opposition.

The Doha deal which ended the political crisis included an agreement on a national unity government, but differences over portfolios has held up the formation of the new cabinet in which the opposition is guaranteed effective veto power.

President Michel Suleiman, whose election was also secured as part of the Doha deal, strongly urged an agreement on the new cabinet within the coming 48 hours.

"Everyone should facilitate that and whoever does not is making a great mistake against the nation," Suleiman said at the presidential palace.

The Tripoli clashes have raised fears of a nationwide security breakdown, dpa reported.

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