Associated Press – 11.19.2013 – BEIRUT, Lebanon — Twin explosions went off next to the Iranian embassy in southern Beirut Tuesday, killing 23 people and wounding 147, Lebanon’s state news agency reported. Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam called the blasts “a terrorist crime which would aim to strike [at] stability and national unity,” reported the agency.
The explosions took place before noon in the Jnah neighborhood of Beirut, with Iranian Cultural Counselor Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ansari reported as being among the victims.
Reports said that the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Lebanon-based al-Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility.
“We cannot keep Lebanon out of this war,” said Nazida Arzouni, a 47-year-old speaking in Beirut. “It’s logical — Syria is so close to Lebanon.”
Jnah is a stronghold of the Iranian-backed Shiite militant organization Hezbollah, which has supported the Bashar al-Assad regime in the Syrian war, raging just across the border from Lebanon.
Analysts say Iran was likely the focus of the attack because of its and Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict on the side of the regime.
“This is a direct strike on Iranian interests,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey of the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations. “This is the second time in recent months that a Hezbollah-controlled area of Beirut has been targeted. So clearly there is a possibility that this is going to escalate that cycle of violence.”
An Aug. 15 car bombing in the southern suburbs of Beirut killed 27 people and wounded more than 300. A less powerful car bomb targeted the same area on July 9, wounding more than 50 people.
Multiple current and former Lebanese officials seemed to recognize that danger, issuing statements arguing that the blasts prove that Lebanon should stay out the conflict, according to the state news agency.
But Barnes-Dacey also added that many in Lebanon still have bitter memories of that country’s long, bloody civil war in the 1980s, and have little desire to repeat it.
“There is a resilience to Lebanon, to the population at large, but also to the political leaders across the spectrum,” he said. “They’re very aware of the danger at hand.”
Still, some people said they were afraid and that the violence was leading to the deaths of those who are not involved.
“We are not all on the side of war,” said Arzouni. “We cannot do anything. It’s not in our hands. Both sides make explosions on the others’ territory and we are the victims.”
Even so, others said that life must go on.
“We have to keep doing what we do,” said Michel Gabriel, a 24-year-old medical student. “Everyone has to keep going to work.”
Contributing: Jesse Singal contributed from Berlin; Associated Press