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LEBANON: Deadly bombing targeting Hamas on Hezbollah turf remains shrouded in mystery

December 28, 2009 |  8:12 am

Osama hamdan

An explosion went off Saturday night just a few blocks from where hundreds of Shiite Muslims had gathered to hear Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah address the faithful on the eve before the last day of Ashura, the annual 10-day commemoration of Imam Hussein, who was killed in the 7th century.

Hezbollah's TV station Al Manar did not interrupt its live coverage of the speech, but its fighters were busy securing the area and reportedly prevented Lebanese security forces from entering at first.

Early news reports claimed the blast was caused by a car bomb, inciting fears of a sectarian attack that could draw retaliation and drag the country into renewed civil conflict. Later, authorities confirmed the explosion was caused by a bomb in the basement of a Hamas office, killing at least two people and injuring several others.

But so far, Hamas has declined to speculate publicly about who might be responsible for the attack, which for now remains an enigma. 

Palestinian infighting is not uncommon, and rumors of a Fatah-Hamas split in Lebanon have been circulating since the Gaza war last year, although officials have not ruled out the possibility of an Israeli hand.

Hamas' leader in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, held a news conference Sunday during which he identified those killed as senior Hamas bodyguards Hassan Saeed al-Haddad, 21, and Bassel Ahmed Jomaa, 26.

But he did not say whom the bodyguards were assigned to, or whether the bombing could have been an assassination attempt. Other local news outlets reported a third person had been killed.

President Michel Sleiman condemned the bombing while urging restraint by Lebanese political leaders. But even the generally bellicose Lebanese political elite have stayed quiet, perhaps out of fear of reigniting tensions among the Lebanese or with the Palestinians, with whom they share a long and bloody history.

But some have lashed out at Hezbollah for taking control of the area and refusing to cede jurisdiction immediately to the Lebanese authorities.

The National News Agency reported that Information Minister Tarek Mitri told the Voice of Lebanon radio station that Hezbollah must show more transparency and cooperation. "The credibility of all sides in Lebanon is at stake, and we all must respect our words," Mitri said.

Nasrallah did not comment on the incident when he addressed crowds gathered the next day. 

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Osama Hamdan, Hamas' leader in Lebanon. Credit: Getty Images

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