The blast is the first in Lebanon since 2008.
A huge car bomb exploded in a street in central Beirut during rush hours on Friday, killing at least eight people and wounding about 80, witnesses and officials said.
It was not immediately clear if the explosion targeted any political figure in Lebanon’s divided community but it occurred at a time of heightened tension between Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the Syria conflict.
The bomb exploded in the street where the office of the anti-Damascus Christian Phalange Party is located near Sassine Square in Ashafriyeh, a mostly Christian area.
Phalange leader Sami al-Gemayel, a staunch opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Member of Parliament, condemned the attack.
“Let the state protect the citizens. We will not accept any procrastination on this matter, we cannot continue like this. We have been warning for a year that enough is enough,’’ said Gemayel, whose brother was assassinated in November 2006.
The blast occurred during rush hours, when many parents were picking up children from school, and sent black smoke billowing into the sky.
Eight people were killed and at least 78 were wounded, the state news agency said, quoting civil defence officials.
Several cars were destroyed by the explosion and the front of a multi-storey building was badly damaged, with entangled wires and metal railings crashing to the ground.
In the aftermath, residents ran about in panic looking for relatives while others helped in carrying the wounded to ambulances, and security forces cordoned off the area.
Ambulances ferried the wounded to several hospitals, where doctors, nurses and students waited for casualties at the doors.
At one hospital, an elderly woman sat in the emergency room of the hospital with blood stains on her blouse.
The hospitals put out an appeal for blood donations.
The war in neighbouring Syria, which has killed about 30 thousand people so far, has pitted mostly Sunni insurgents against President Assad, who is from the Alawite sect linked to Shi’ite Islam.
Tension between Sunnis and Shi’ites has been rumbling in Lebanon after the end of the 1975 to 1990 civil war but re-ignited after the Syrian conflict erupted.
It reached its peak when former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a Sunni, was killed in 2005.
Mr. Hariri’s supporters accused Syria and the Hezbollah of killing him, a charge they both deny, but an international tribunal
accused several Hezbollah members of involvement in the murder.
Hezbollah’s political opponents, who have for months accused it of aiding Assad’s forces, have warned that its involvement
in Syria could re-ignite the sectarian tension and the civil war.
The last bombing in Beirut was in 2008 when three people were killed in an explosion which damaged a U.S. diplomatic car.
However, fighting had broken out this year between supporters and opponents of Assad in the northern city of
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