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KUWAITI DIPLOMATS, EMBASSY SAFE AFTER BEIRUT BLAST Suicide bombers target Iran center

 BEIRUT, Feb 19, (Agencies): Two suicide car bombs targeted an Iranian cultural centre near Kuwait Embassy in Beirut Wednesday, killing six people in the latest attack linked to the conflict in neighbouring Syria. Meanwhile, KUNA reported that there were no Kuwaiti casualties in the recent explosion that hit Southern Beirut close to the Kuwaiti Embassy on Wednesday. A statement issued by Kuwait’s embassy in Lebanon said, the explosion did not affect the diplomats or Kuwaiti citizens in Lebanon, adding that all Kuwaitis and embassy officials are safe. It also denounced the act of terror that claimed many innocent souls and destroyed property. Statement added that Kuwaitis who want to make enquiries may contact the concerned officials on telephone numbers 03041166, 71171441 or 71582888. The attack was quickly claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a jihadist group inspired by al-Qaeda that previously claimed a double suicide bombing aimed at Iran’s embassy in Beirut. Jihadists have carried out a string of attacks in Lebanon targeting both Iran and the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, which provide vital support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as it battles a Sunni-led rebellion.

The health ministry said six people were killed and 129 others wounded, with the army saying one of the cars was loaded with 90 kilos (200 pounds) of explosives and the other with 75 kilos. According to official media, a policeman was among the dead. The blasts in the capital’s southern district of Bir Hassan sent a large plume of smoke over the area and caused widespread damage.

Emergency teams carried wounded people away from a charred street strewn with rubble, as local residents armed with fire extinguishers helped firefighters put out blazes. The arms of a wounded man hung limply from the sides of a yellow stretcher as he was carried from the scene. “I was driving my car with my wife to the university when we were hit by the force of the blast and I found pieces of human flesh on my face,” Yousef al-Tawil, a professor at the Lebanese University, told AFP. Dozens of children at a nearby orphanage witnessed the explosion, some cut by flying debris. Bewildered in the chaotic aftermath, many were crying. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an Al- Qaeda-inspired group, claimed the “double martyrdom operation” on Twitter and pledged to continue its attacks against Iran and “its party” — a reference to Hezbollah. “We will continue... to target Iran and its party in Lebanon, in its security and political and military centres, until our demands are achieved,” the group said. “First: that the Party of Iran (Hezbollah) withdraws its forces from Syria. Second, that our prisoners are released from Lebanese prisons.” Hezbollah acknowledged last year that it has dispatched forces to bolster Assad’s troops against an uprising that began in March 2011. The war regularly spills into Lebanon in the form of rocket fire from the Syrian side, including 10 rockets that hit the eastern Bekaa on Wednesday without causing injuries.

Claimed
The jihadist Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon, which is loyal to Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility via Twitter for five of the rocket attacks. Hezbollah says its involvement is necessary to protect Lebanon from Sunni extremists, but critics accuse it of embroiling the country in Syria’s conflict. Sunni extremist have said they will target Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, until it withdraws from Syria, and the group has seen its strongholds hit by several bomb attacks that have killed civilians. In November, the Azzam Brigades claimed a double suicide bombing that killed at least 25 people outside the Iranian embassy, also in the Bir Hassan district. Other attacks have targeted the southern suburbs of Beirut and the eastern town of Hermel, where Hezbollah commands widespread support. Wednesday’s bombings underlined the challenges facing Lebanon’s new government, formed at the weekend after a 10- month political vacuum. Prime Minister Tammam Salam condemned the attack, saying it was a “message reflecting the determination of the forces of evil to harm Lebanon and its children and sow discord.” “The message has been received and we will respond to it with solidarity and commitment to civil accord and rallying around our army and our security forces,” he said in a statement. US Ambassador David Hale, condemned the attacks as “abhorrent,” and British Minister of State for the Middle East Hugh Robertson said “such criminal and callous attacks cannot be allowed to destabilise the country and the wider region.” For its part, Iran’s foreign ministry blamed “agents” of Hezbollah’s archenemy Israel

Condemned
Meanwhile, two visiting US senators condemned a double suicide bombing that ripped through a Shiite stronghold of the Lebanese capital Wednesday, saying they were concerned about the spillover effects of Syria’s civil war. Two bombers blew up their cars near an Iranian cultural center in Beirut, killing at least four people and wounding more than 100. It was the latest in a string of deadly attacks targeting bastions of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. The explosions occurred as Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Angus King of Maine were in Beirut. The senators are on a weeklong trip that includes Israel and the West Bank and Egypt. “We condemn the violence and we have deep condolences for the victims and families and feel for the Lebanese people,” Kaine, a Democrat, said. The senators spoke in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Beirut after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Tammam Salam, who formed a Cabinet last week more than 10 months after taking office.

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