BEIRUT (AFP) – Two people were killed when a bomb ripped through a shopping center in a Christian area north of Beirut, the second explosion since the assassination last month of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri plunged Lebanon into political turmoil. Police confirmed that the blast, which occurred near the port of Jounieh 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Beirut was caused by an explosive device. The dead were two foreigners, whose identity has yet to be confirmed, while three were wounded, police said Wednesday. The blast followed an explosion in another Christian district early Saturday, which injured 11 people, and seemed certain to heighten fears of a resurgence in the sectarian violence that devastated Lebanon during its 1975-1990 civil war.

Hariri’s death, in a bombing widely blamed here on Syrian and Lebanese agents, widened a rift between the pro-Syrian authorities and an energized opposition as Syria begins to withdraw troops from Lebanon under international pressure.

The accusations of their involvement in Hariri’s killing have been denied by authorities here and in Damascus.

LBCI television said the two dead were an Indian and a Pakistani and that the explosion had injured two Sri Lankans and a Lebanese.

The blast occurred in the Alta Vista commercial center in Kaslik that houses shops, a night club and an amusement hall.

The force of the explosion ripped out the center, causing damage in a radius of several hundred meters, forcing false ceilings to collapse, pillars to warp and blowing out windows.

LCBI said an explosive device had been placed in one of the shopping center’s stairwells.

Anti-Syrian opposition deputy Fares Boueiz charged that the explosion was an attack aimed at deepening a sense of insecurity and foreboding in the country.

“They want to destabilize the country,” he said of the perpetrators. “We must not fall into the trap.

“This attack is aimed at the movement for independence and sovereignty of Lebanon. It is a political message which is being sent to us,” he told LBCI.

Another MP, Naamatallah Abi Nasr, accused “the enemies of Lebanon,” adding: “I say that’s enough.”

It was a sentiment echoed by a shop owner in the district who said: “We want this situation to end.”

Added Claude Boustani, a nearby resident: “We don’t know what is happening but it’s obvious that we are very frightened.”

Hariri’s death rocked Lebanese politics to its roots, igniting public fury and prompting demonstrations that led to the resignation of pro-Syrian prime minister Omar Karameh on February 28.

But Lebanese parties more sympathetic to Syria and hostile to outside interference, notably the Shiite movement Hezbollah, countered with huge public rallies of their own.

Karameh was re-appointed to the premiership by President Emile Lahoud on March 10 but has since been rebuffed by the opposition in his bid to form a government of national unity.

The standoff now threatens parliamentary elections — the first in the absence of heavy Syrian political and military influence — that should in principle take place by the end of May.

Hariri’s killing also turned up the heat on Syria and its president, Bashar al-Assad, to call home an estimated 14,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Assad earlier this month agreed to terms of United Nations (newsweb sites) Security Council Resolution 1559, passed in September with the active backing of the United States and France and calling for a full Syrian pullout.

An estimated 4,000 Syrian troops have now returned home while the rest, some 10,000, have redeployed to eastern Lebanon ahead of what is expected to be a full withdrawal in line with the United Nations Security Council resolution.

Syrian forces entered Lebanon in 1976 to act as a buffer between warring Lebanese factions and at one time numbered 40,000.

Their presence has been seen in some quarters, notably Lebanon’s Shia Muslim community, as a guarantor of stability and political pluralism.