Beirut Blasts Near Iranian Embassy Kill 23

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Iranian and Lebanese Officials Describe Attack as Assault on the Embassy.

Two blasts targeting the Iranian Embassy in Beirut killed 23 people, including an Iranian diplomat, and struck Lebanon’s Shiite heartland in an escalation of spillover sectarian violence from the civil war in Syria.

Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, said two successive bombs went off five minutes apart.

“There is no doubt the Iranian Embassy was targeted by these two blasts,” he told Al-Manar Television, a station controlled by Lebanon’s Iranian-allied Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Lebanese officials also said the embassy was targeted.

Local media reported that the attacks were suicide bombings. They said the first bomb went off after a man on a motorbike approached an embassy gate and blew himself up after guards opened fired at him. Minutes later, a jeep approached and exploded. They struck a few meters from a busy thoroughfare where traffic was gridlocked.

The Iranian ambassador and local officials couldn’t confirm the attacks were suicide bombs. But they said an investigation was under way, using footage caught by embassy security cameras.

A Lebanese leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades—an al Qaeda-affiliated organization designated as terrorist by the U.S.—claimed on Twitter that his group was responsible for the “double suicide operation by two heroes of the Sunnis of Beirut.” He vowed more attacks. Fighters from the Abdullah Azzam Brigades are believed to be battling alongside Sunni rebels in Syria.

The bombings broke three months of relative calm in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah that along with Iran has sent fighters to Syria to reinforce Bashar al-Assad’s regime in its war against Sunni-dominated rebels. Some Lebanese Sunni factions back Syria’s largely-Sunni rebels, who have used Lebanese border areas as supply routes and rear base.

The Syrian war transformed into a regional sectarian conflict, pitting Sunni and Shiite Muslims in both countries against each other.

Lebanon and Syria share a border and have been closely intertwined for decades. When the war in Syria began nearly three years ago, Lebanon was still in a fragile recovery from its own 15-year sectarian civil war from 1975 to 1990.

Sporadic violence from Syria bleeding over the border has rocked Lebanon, which has inundated by a million Syrian refugees, threatening to destabilize the country and to suck Lebanon back into civil war as well.

Lebanese officials from all sides of the political divide described the bombings as a terrorist attack. Lebanon’s health ministry said 23 people were killed and 147 injured.

The ambassador and other Iranian officials blamed Israel and “terrorist groups aligned with it” for the attack. However, Tzachi Hanegbi, an Israeli lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, denied the allegation. Iran, Hezbollah and their Lebanese political allies frequently blame Israel for bombings in Shiite areas of Lebanon.

The Syrian regime, allied with Iran, blamed the Gulf states.

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