Five killed in truck blast - Lebanon in shock over sheikh's murder

Four Syrians and a Lebanese were killed when a truck loaded with smuggled fireworks from Syria exploded Thursday near the Lebanese-Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, police said.

The truck blast came as Lebanon was still coming to terms with a car bomb explosion late Wednesday that killed a pro-Syrian Druze sheikh and wounded six others in an area southeast of Beirut, reported dpa.

The alleged fireworks smuggling operation came a few days after a UN team assessing the monitoring of the border said progress in fortifying it had been minimal and remained "penetrable".

"Lebanon has not yet succeeded in enhancing the overall security of its borders in any significant manner," the report said.

Lebanon remained shocked by the killing hours before of Sheikh Saleh al-Aridi, who was in his 50s and right-hand man of Druze pro- Syrian opposition leader Talal Arslan in Baysour.

He was killed instantly when the bomb ripped through his Mercedes car in Baysour's square. Relatives said he had just left his house at about 9:30 p.m. and was alone in his vehicle when the bomb went off.

The state-run National News Agency said a bomb had been planted under the driver's seat and detonated by remote control, while other reports said the car was rigged with 500 grams of TNT planted by "professional" people who had been keeping a close watch on Aridi.

Arslan, who was on a trip abroad, arrived back in Beirut Thursday and accused Israel of being behind the blast. Israel "has an interest in igniting strife and exploding the internal situation," Arslan was quoted as saying.

House Speaker Nabih Berri said the explosion targeted "civil peace," while Prime Minister Fouad Seniora said it was aimed at "disuniting the Lebanese people."

Aridi's death came as Lebanon's political parties prepared for a national dialogue next week aimed at reconciling their differences, which in May brought the country close to civil war.

The killing was a reminder of the series of bomb attacks that have targeted Lebanon in the last three years, killing a number of anti- Syrian politicians.

In February 2005, five-time prime minister Rafik Hariri was killed by a massive bomb on Beirut seafront. The international and domestic backlash against his killing resulted in Syria withdrawing its forces after nearly 30 years.

Lebanon and Syria just last month announced their intention to open diplomatic ties for the first time since independence some 60 years ago.

Lebanon's 18-month political crisis led to fighting in May in Beirut and the Druze hills east of the capital.

During those clashes, fighters from Syrian-backed Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia, seized the strongholds of pro- government Sunni Muslims and fought with anti-Syrian Druze factions in the region near the scene of Wednesday's bombing.

An Arab-brokered agreement in Doha ended the clashes, leading to the election of a new president and the formation of a national unity cabinet that includes the two major blocs.

On August 13, a bomb exploded near a bus in the northern port city of Tripoli, a Sunni stronghold, killing 18 soldiers and civilians.

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