Twin blasts kill 20 in Lebanese city of Tripoli

Twin blasts kill 20 in Lebanese city of Tripoli

Explosions occur outside two mosques in the northern city, minutes apart; health minister says more than 213 wounded

Lebanon’s health minister said at least 20 people were killed, and over 213 were wounded, in twin bombing attacks in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli Friday afternoon.

According to the Lebanese Future TV, the bodies were being transported to a hospital in the city. Security sources said the death toll was expected to rise sharply.

The blasts occurred outside two mosques as Friday prayers ended. The Lebanese Daily Star newspaper reported that the attacks occurred minutes apart.

One of the blasts exploded outside the Taqwa mosque, where Sheik Salem Rafei, a Salafi cleric opposed to Hezbollah, usually prays. It was not clear whether he was inside.

The second went off about five minutes later in the Mina district of Tripoli.

According to the BBC, Rafei is known for encouraging Sunnis in Lebanon to join the rebel forces in Syria fighting against the Bashar Assad regime.

Medics and police were rushed to the scenes, and the security forces have cordoned off the areas.

The blasts came amid rising tension in Lebanon resulting from Syria’s civil war, which has sharply polarized the country along sectarian lines and between supporters and opponents of Assad. Tripoli has previously seen clashes between Sunnis and Alawites, a Shiite offshoot sect to which Assad belongs.

Lebanon’s caretaker PM Najib Mikati said the attacks were “a clear attempt to create strife,” according to Lebanese news site Naharnet.

“Tripoli and its residents however will once against demonstrate that they are more powerful than the conspiracy and they will not be lured towards strife,” Mikati said in a statement.

“We urge them to exercise restraint and we pledge that we will remain by their side at all times, especially during this critical situation,” he added.

Attacks have become common in the past few months against Shiite strongholds in Lebanon, particularly following Hezbollah’s open participation in Syria’s civil war.

But attacks against Sunni strongholds have been rare.

AP contributed to this report.

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