Car bomb rocks Beirut

Lahoud pulls out of Arab summit

The Associated PressMarch 20, 2005 

Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud on Saturday canceled plans to attend an Arab summit, citing "exceptional circumstances" after a car bomb rocked a Christian neighborhood in Beirut, injuring nine people.

The explosion in north Beirut, a city ravaged by 15 years of civil war that ended in 1990, complicated efforts to restore stability in Lebanon. It came even as Syrian troops were withdrawing under global pressure, a month after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a massive bombing that killed 17 others.

The deepening political crisis also prompted Lahoud, a supporter of Syria's 29-year involvement in Lebanon, to call for dialogue between the pro- and anti-Syrian camps. But the opposition quickly rejected his overtures, demanding an international inquiry into Hariri's Feb. 14 assassination and the ouster of top Lebanese security officials. Some said Lahoud must step down.

Investigators searched the rubble of a bombed building for clues in the attack just after midnight. The explosion, in addition to the nine casualties, devastated an eight-story apartment building in the largely Christian New Jdeideh neighborhood, blowing off the fronts of some structures and making a 7-foot-deep crater in the pavement.

The motive for the attack was not known. It played to concerns among some Lebanese that pro-Syrian elements might resort to violence to prove the need for the presence of Damascus forces.

Opposition leader Walid Jumblatt warned there could be more car bombs and assassination attempts but urged calm. "Car bomb messages do not threaten our national unity," he said in a speech to supporters.

The military announced stricter measures against any security violators, saying in a statement, "The army will not allow that freedom of expression be abused in order to harm security and stability." It was a reference, perhaps, to pro- and anti-Syrian rallies that have clogged central Beirut in recent days.

Lahoud canceled his plans to attend Monday's Arab summit in Algeria but did not mention the bombing. He said in a statement that Lebanon was experiencing "exceptional circumstances" that required "immediate and direct dialogue" between opposition and pro-government groups. He also offered to sponsor talks among Lebanon's political factions.

Opposition legislator Fares Soeid dismissed the invitation, telling the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel: "It's too late. This subject is closed."

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