TRIPOLI, August 13 – A bomb killed at least 10 people in the main north Lebanese city of Tripoli on Wednesday as new violence rocked the country just hours before a landmark visit by President Michel Sleiman to neighbouring Syria.
Another 24 people were wounded by the blast which struck a busy shopping street in the heart of the city during the morning rush hour, a security official said.
The bomb was placed in front of a garage door close to a bus stop in the Masarif Street commercial district and exploded near a bus carrying Lebanese soldiers.
Seven of the dead and many of the wounded were soldiers, the security official said.
"According to initial estimates, the bomb was made up of 20 kilogram’s (44 pounds) of explosives," he said, adding that it remained unclear whether it was set off by a timer or by remote control.
The force of the blast blew the remains of some of the dead onto the roofs of nearby buildings.
Tripoli has been rocked by deadly violence between anti-Syrian supporters of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and his Syrian-backed rivals.
Last month, 23 people were killed in battles between Sunni Muslim supporters of the prime minister and Alawite opponents in the neighbourhoods of Bab al-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen which lie just a kilometre and a half (a mile) from Masarif Street.
During the night, the Bab al-Tebbaneh district was hit by a hand grenade and two rockets, an AFP correspondent reported.
Bab al-Tebbaneh is a Sunni stronghold while Jabal Mohsen is mainly Alawite.
There has been tension between the two communities ever since Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war. Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam and straddle the border into neighbouring Syria whose President Bashar al-Assad is a follower of the faith.
The explosion came hours before the Lebanese president, a former army chief, was due to head to Damascus for a landmark summit with Assad amid moves to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries for the first time.
It also came a day after a new national unity government formed by Siniora following 18 months of deadly tensions with his Shiite-led rivals finally won a vote of confidence in parliament.
The standoff between the two sides had pushed the country to the brink of a new civil war and was only ended by an Arab-brokered power-sharing agreement.
"Now the army and the people are being targeted, when it used to be the politicians who were the targets," Tripoli MP Mesbah al-Ahdab told public radio.
He was referring to a spate of assassinations of anti-Syrian public figures since 2005, most notably five-time Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, that has been widely blamed on Damascus.
"This explosion is not in either Lebanon or Syria’s interests, especially since President Sleiman is expected to visit Damascus today," Ahdab added.