Israel was shocked to be blamed by Lebanon’s leaders for a deadly bombing in Beirut Thursday that struck a Hezbollah stronghold, President Shimon Peres told UN chief Ban Ki-moon Friday.
Lebanon upped the death toll in the attack Friday to 22. Over 200 people were also injured in what was described as the deadliest attack in decades
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that officials are conducting DNA tests on Friday on body parts discovered near the vehicle that blew up, to try to determine whether the explosion was the work of a suicide bomber.
The blast struck a bustling street in the Rweiss district in a southern suburb of Beirut largely controlled by Lebanese Shi’ite terror group Hezbollah. The explosion sent a massive plume of black smoke billowing into the sky, set several cars ablaze and blew out the fronts of buildings on the street.
After the attack, a number of top politicians said Israel could be behind the bombing.
President Michel Suleiman said the explosion had the fingerprints of Israel; prime minister-elect Tammam Salam told Lebanese media that Israel would have the most to gain; and Charbel said it was possible the blast was in retaliation for a Hezbollah bombing that wounded four Israeli soldiers on the border a week earlier.
“I accuse Israel of being behind the explosion in Dahieh,” parliament member Walid Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party, told local television.
But Peres denied any Israeli involvement and said he was surprised Suleiman would blame Israel. “Bloodshed in the Middle East must be stopped,” he said during a meeting with Ban.
Added Peres: “Hezbollah are breaking the bones of Lebanon. I was surprised that the president of Lebanon said that Israel is again responsible; why should he look to Israel? He has Hezbollah collecting bombs and killing people in Syria without the approval of the Lebanese government. Israel has nothing to do with this situation, we would like to see Lebanon united and successful.”
The bombing was the second in a little over a month to hit a Hezbollah area in Beirut’s south.
In July, a car bomb exploded in the same south Beirut suburb, wounding more than 50 people, in an attack that was widely assumed to be the handiwork of Syrian rebels.
Many people in Lebanon see the attacks as retaliation for Hezbollah’s armed support for President Bashar Assad in neighboring Syria’s civil war.