Blast hits street full of restaurants and bars in Beirut

Saturday, July 23, 2005

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- A bomb exploded on a narrow street crowded with bars and restaurants late Friday, wounding 12 people just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the area, officials said.

The blast, from a bomb placed near a car parked in front of a restaurant, panicked the hundreds of people dining or smoking water pipes in the bustling sidewalk cafes on popular Monot Street. Lebanese families and Arab tourists, including black-veiled women visiting from the Gulf, scattered.

Three cars were damaged by the 50-pound bomb. Security and hospital officials said 12 people were wounded.

Rice made a surprise visit Friday to give her support to the new government, whose creation crowns the crumbling of Syria's long domination of Lebanon -- a major U.S. goal. She left the country several hours before the blast, but earlier in the day visited the grave of slain former prime minister Rafik Hariri about 600 yards from the site of the explosion.

Hariri's slaying, in a massive explosion that killed 20 other people on Feb. 14, sparked widespread protests against Syria, which many people blamed for the assassination.

Since then, two other anti-Syrian politicians have been killed by bombs placed in their cars, and a bomb wounded the outgoing defense minister, a supporter of Syria.

Other bombings in March and June targeted shopping and commercial areas in Christian areas, killing three people and injuring more than 35. Monot Street is in Ashrafiya, a largely Christian neighborhood of Beirut.

Michel Pharaon, state minister for parliament affairs, said the blast was "a message of terror."

"The Lebanese people will continue the march of national peace, freedom and democracy," Pharaon said at the bombing site late Friday.

Anger over Hariri's slaying helped push Syria into withdrawing its troops from Lebanon in April, ending a 29-year military presence. Since then, Damascus' political control has also been crumbling, with the formation this week of the first government dominated by anti-Syrian politicians.

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