BEIRUT — A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden car in a town in northeastern Lebanon on Thursday, killing at least three people and wounding more than 20, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.
The attack left a row of crumpled cars burning and sent up clouds of black smoke during rush hour in a central square in the town of Hermel, near a number of banks and a government office where citizens handle official paperwork.
The bombing is the latest in a string of attacks on civilian areas across Lebanon that many have interpreted as targeting groups backing opposite sides in the civil war in neighboring Syria. Hermel is a primarily Shiite town, and Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group and political party that supports the Syrian government, has a strong presence there.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has in the past blamed radical Sunni Muslims for bomb attacks in areas where the group holds sway. Syria’s rebels are predominantly Sunni, and many of their brethren in Lebanon support their fight against the government of President Bashar Assad.
After the Syria conflict started nearly three years ago, Lebanon officially adopted a policy of neutrality. But as the war has dragged on and parties in Lebanon have become involved, the war’s tensions have spilled across the border.
“The Lebanese situation is linked to the Syrian situation and the regional situation,” said Marwan Charbel, Lebanon’s acting interior minister, in a phone call with Hezbollah’s Al Manar television. “Our problem is that we have not been able to remain isolated from what is happening around us.”
The attack hit Lebanon during a tense period of worsening security, public fears and an economic crisis caused largely by the region’s violence and the large numbers of Syrians who have sought refuge in Lebanon. The country has been without a government for nearly a year because of feuding between the country’s political factions although local news reports have suggested an agreement on a new government is near.
The bombing struck on the opening day of the trial at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005. The prosecution contends that the four suspects are members of Hezbollah. None of the men have been arrested. They are being tried in absentia near The Hague.