By Lin Noueihed , BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s anti-Syrian opposition dismissed the president’s call for talks on Saturday, deepening political divisions hours after a bomb raised fresh fears of a return to the country’s violent past.  Investigators sifted through the rubble left by the blast, which wounded 11 people and gutted the ground and first floors of a residential block in a Christian suburb of eastern Beirut. The bomb had been left in or under a car belonging to a Lebanese-Armenian man who lived in the building, but it was not clear why, Lebanese security sources said.

Opposition figures who met on Saturday held Syrian-backed security agencies responsible for the bombing and were unimpressed with pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s first personal bid to break the deadlock over Syria’s influence in its tiny neighbor.

“We warn Syria not to let these midgets carry out security actions in the country. The security agencies belong to it (Syria). There is no other explanation,” Druze chieftain and key opposition leader Walid Jumblatt told reporters.

“Lahoud today invites us to dialogue as though he is an independent when he is accused.”

The explosion shortly after midnight comes amid acute political tension since the Feb. 14 killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in another bombing, prompting Lahoud to offer the presidential palace as a possible venue for talks.

Lahoud also canceled plans to attend Monday’s Arab Summit in Algeria, saying the turmoil in Lebanon required him to stay.

Syria has already bowed to international demands it withdraw troops from Lebanon, after Hariri’s death prompted hundreds of thousands of Lebanese to protest against the Syrians they blame.

Syria denies the charge but has begun withdrawing the troops it poured into Lebanon early in the 1975-1990 civil war.

Jumblatt also renewed calls for Lahoud to resign, saying opposition members would not join a new unity government unless he stepped down.

That stance threatens efforts to form a new cabinet led by pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami, who resigned on Feb. 28 under opposition pressure but was reappointed by parliament.

The opposition wants a neutral cabinet to lead Lebanon to elections, due in May but threatened with delay if the deadlock lasts, and an international probe into Hariri’s killing, which Jumblatt has accused Lebanese authorities of trying to cover up.


On Saturday morning, dazed residents inspected bomb damage to their homes, shops and cars, sweeping up shards of glass and debris that littered the New Jdeideh area.

The blast blew out balconies, smashed windows in surrounding buildings and gouged a crater in an adjacent car park.

“I was standing under this building and we heard a huge explosion and there was a big cloud of dust, and glass flew everywhere. We saw this car just fly into the air and land on the street right in front of us,” said witness Rany Ayoub.


No one claimed responsibility for the attack and it was unclear if there was any political motive, but top Lebanese politicians said it aimed to sow sectarian strife in a country whose 15-year civil war made car bombs a weapon of choice.

Locals say no politicians lived nearby and there was no obvious target.

Analysts warn strains are evident in the precarious political and sectarian balance maintained since the war. They say political tension could spill over into persistent violence.

The army said there had been several violent incidents, warning in a statement against “provocations” that took advantage of the politically charged atmosphere.

Lebanon’s Hizbollah guerrilla group called for national dialogue and warned the opposition was making a mistake by rejecting talks, although civil war was not imminent.

“We back any national dialogue that takes place … We will not tire of calling for national dialogue,” said Hizbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. “There are no grounds for civil war, but we must not create grounds.”