Latest Explosion in Lebanese Christian Area Kills Three

A powerful bomb tore through a shopping mall in a Christian heartland north of Beirut Wednesday, killing three workers, according to reports.

The explosion, the second in a Christian area in five days, follows the blast last Saturday in the Christian suburb of Jdeide in eastern Beirut that wounded 11 people.

According to Reuters, yesterday's blast at the mall in the coastal area of Kaslik, 12 miles north of Beirut, blew out walls and brought down the roof of the mall. Police sources said the blast at 1:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) was caused by a 176-pound bomb placed inside the multi-story center, which was closed at the time.

Rescuers have since then found the bodies of three Asian workers, but according to Reuters, that the death toll would have been much higher if the blast had taken place in the daytime in the usually crowded street.

The latest bombing adds to the political turmoil set off by the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops to east Lebanon and Syria.

Since Hariri was killed in a massive explosion that ripped through his motorcade in downtown Beirut, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have been participating in demonstrations for and against Syria. According to the Associated Press, anti-Syrian opposition demonstrations have included large numbers of Maronite Christians—members of one of the Eastern Rites of the Catholic church.

Hariri's death sharpened an ominous rift between the pro-Syrian authorities and an energized opposition as Syria has begun to withdraw troops from Lebanon under international pressure, AP reported.

Although accusations of their involvement in Hariri's killing have been denied by authorities in Beirut and Damascus, opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) and residents of Kaslik were quick to point a finger at pro-Syrian Lebanese security agents for the bombing there.

"The Lebanese-Syrian security network is targeting Christian regions in order to provoke Islamic-Christian tension, which will not happen," said Simon Karam, a former diplomat and a member of the Christian opposition.

Karam told the Agence-France Presse (AFP) "these services are trying to divide the opposition."

Opposition MP Mansour al-Bon said such services were "targeting the security of the Christians in order to create confessional troubles."

In Kaslik itself, resident Simon Shihan noted to AFP that the attack in Kaslik came just before Easter while the one in Jdeide came just before Palm Sunday.

"The joint Syrian-Lebanese services want to bring the Christians to their knees. But God is great," Kaslik told the news agency.

AFP reports that the Hariri assassination and its aftermath have left Beirut residents "jittery," notably as there have also been several false bomb alerts recently.