BEIRUT — At least eight people were killed and 78 injured in a massive blast in east Beirut caused by a car bomb.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw bloodied people being helped into ambulances and heavy damage to what appeared to be residential buildings in the mostly Christian Achrafieh neighborhood.
A police official told reporters that Wissam al-Hassan the head of police intelligence was the target of the blast.
It is not yet clear whether Hassan was one of the dead.
Lebanon’s MTV reported that the blast occurred near the building of the March 14 Coalition, an organization that opposes Hezbollah and the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.
Lebanon has seen a rise in clashes and tensions in recent months stemming from the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Health Minister Ali Hussein Khalil called on all hospitals to accept the wounded from this “terrorist bombing.”
Lebanon was hit by a wave of bombings and other attacks that began in 2005 with a massive suicide blast that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri and more than 20 other people in downtown Beirut. In the following years, a string of anti-Syrian figures were assassinated, several in car bombings. Many Lebanese blamed Damascus for the killings, though it denied the responsibility.
The last serious bombing was in 2008. Since then, Lebanese saw a relative calm in violence. After the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, there have been sporadic gunbattles between pro- and anti-Assad factions, particularly in northern Lebanon. The divisions also tend to fall along sectarian lines, a dangerous element in a country that was torn apart by civil war between 1975-1990.
“I’m very worried about the country after this explosion,” Beirut resident Charbel Khadra said Friday. “I’m worried the explosions will return — and this is just the first one.”
Although the motive behind the attack was still unknown, the country’s fractious political leaders immediately began laying blame and tying the bombing to the crisis in Syria.
Syria and Lebanon share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, often causing events on one side of the border to echo on the other. Lebanon’s Sunnis have tended to back Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels, while Lebanon’s powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement is a key ally of Assad.