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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Al Qaida tied to bomb attack on the army of Hizbullah-backed Lebanon government

NICOSIA — At least 14 people were killed when a bomb rocked the downtown section of the northern city of Tripoli on Aug. 13.

At least nine off-duty soldiers were killed and nearly 50 others were injured in the morning rush hour blast at a military gathering point in the coastal city.

The bombing marked the first major attack on the Lebanese Army since the introduction of the Hizbullah-dominated government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

The attack took place as Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, the outgoing military chief, left Beirut for Damascus to meet Syrian President Bashar Assad. The two men agreed to the first formal diplomatic relations between Beirut and Damascus.

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"The Syrians are recovering Lebanon," [Ret.] Gen. Elias Hanna, a political science instructor at Notre Dame University, said. "The balance of power is not in the Lebanese favor. Whatever happens, [Syria] will have the upper hand. It doesn't matter who the culprit is." "This was a big terrorist explosion," Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri said.

Officials said the bombing appeared to be the work of Sunni insurgents linked to Al Qaida. In 2007, the Lebanese Army fought a 104-day war at the Palestinian refugee camp of Naher Al Bared near Tripoli with the Al Qaida-aligned Fatah Al Islam, supported by Syria.

"The terrorist attack directly targets the army and national peace efforts," a Lebanese Army statement said.

"The hands of the criminals have hit in Tripoli against innocent soldiers and civilians," Mitri said. "Once again, they want our country to be an arena for settling scores and battling for influence."

The bomb was said to have contained 20 kilograms of TNT and detonated by remote control. Officials said the bomb contained nuts and bolts to ensure maximum casualties.

"It's part of the string of attacks against the Lebanese Army," Oussama Safa, executive director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, told the Lebanese Daily Star. "The army has been a target for a while now. What's worrying is the quality and the ferocity of the attack."

Despite its defeat, Fatah Al Islam has sought to renew attacks in Tripoli. The group claimed responsibility for a bombing on May 31 in which a soldier was killed.

The Lebanese Army has bolstered its presence in Tripoli amid clashes between Sunni supporters of Siniora and Alawite opposition groups aligned with Syria. The army, under increasing Hizbullah control, has refrained from direct intervention.

Another bombing was reported in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein Hilwe outside the Lebanese city of Sidon. Palestinian sources said the bombing targeted a senior Fatah operative.

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