Twin blasts could be an attempt to drag Lebanon into the Syrian crisis

Twin blasts targeting the Iranian embassy in Lebanon killed 23 people, including a diplomat — the attack highlighting the threat of a possible expansion of the conflict in Syria, fuelled by regional rivalries.

Two suicide bombers were apparently involved in the strike, which also injured 146, at the gates of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, in the morning hours on Tuesday.

The Lebanese website Al Manar reported that a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle was first to attack — his strike paving the way for a much larger car bombing. Casualties, caused by the detonation of nearly 100 kg of TNT inside the car, were particularity high, as large crowds had rushed to the site of the first attack to attend to the injured and the dead.

Television pictures caught bizarre scenes of the carnage — smoke rising from cars that were in flames, buildings which had their facades torn down; and on the roads littered with shattered glass, paramedics and bystanders struggling to attend to the scores who were wounded, and the dead.

Iran’s ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi acknowledged that his embassy had been attacked. In Tehran, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Marzieh Afkham said that “Iran’s cultural attaché has been severely injured and is in critical condition”.

But Lebanon’s Health Minister later announced that the Iranian diplomat had succumbed to injuries. Al Manar also reported that Yemeni ambassador to the Lebanon was lightly wounded in the strike.

Al-Qaeda group’s claim

A Lebanese-based al-Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the double suicide attack.

Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the religious guide of the Brigades, said in a Twitter post that the group had carried out the strike.

“It was a double martyrdom operation by two of the Sunni heroes of Lebanon,” he wrote.

Southern Beirut is a stronghold of the Hizbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is on the frontlines backing government troops in Syria.

Analysts say Tuesday’s attack could be in retaliation to the recent offensive that has been launched by Hizbollah-backed Syrian troops in the al-Qalamoun area — a strategic conduit close the Lebanon border through which anti-government militants and weapons are funnelled.

Iran’s Press TV reported that the Syrian army is on the offensive, having regained full control of the Qara town in the al-Qalamoun area.

In Damascus, the Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi blamed Saudi Arabia and Israel for the attack. His remarks mirrored the rivalry between Iran and its allies — Iraq, Syria and Hizbollah — and Saudi Arabia, which has spiralled in intensity and virulence in the aftermath of Syria’s externally-backed conflict.

Observers say Tuesday’s attack appears yet another attempt to drag Lebanon into the Syrian crisis.

In August, a series of car bombs targeted Hizbollah strongholds in southern Beirut.

In the same month, at least 50 people were killed when two car bombs went off outside mosques in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, close to the border with Syria.

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