BEIRUT -- A car bomb detonated early Thursday in the center of the northeastern Lebanese city of Hermel, close to the border with Syria, killing five people and injuring dozens, authorities said.
The blast was the latest in a series of bombings and other attacks in Lebanon that appear to be linked to the war raging in neighboring Syria.
Authorities described all of the victims in Thursday’s bombing as civilians who were in the town’s center as the workday was beginning.
Hermel is a mostly Shiite Muslim city whose residents are closely allied with the Hezbollah movement, which has dispatched militiamen to Syria to fight on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Some militant Sunni Muslim groups battling to topple Assad in an almost 3-year-old civil war have vowed to take their fight to Hezbollah’s Lebanese homeland.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday’s attack. News reports suggested that a suicide bomber was involved.
Images from downtown Hermel showed the twisted wreckage of cars and the shattered facades of buildings with blown-out windows and shrapnel damage. Such scenes of devastation have become commonplace in Lebanon, where spillover violence from the Syrian war has caused deep anxiety, fanned sectarian tensions and destabilized the nation’s fragile political system.
A series attacks in Lebanon since last year has targeted districts allied with Hezbollah, killing dozens of civilians. Hermel has previously been hit by shells reportedly fired by forces allied with the Syrian rebel movement.
The car bomb Thursday exploded shortly before 9 a.m. near Hermel's central municipal building, authorities said.
Lebanese politicians from various parties denounced Thursday’s blast as a terrorist act.
The attack came as an international tribunal about 2,000 miles away in the Netherlands opened proceedings in a criminal trial arising from one of Lebanon’s most sensational car bombings -- the massive February 2005 strike along the Beirut seafront that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others. The assassination of Hariri led to street protests and the eventual exit of Syrian troops from Lebanon after an almost three-decade presence in the country.
Four suspects linked to Hezbollah were not present in the courtroom outside The Hague and are being tried in absentia in connection with the 2005 attack. The suspects’ whereabouts remain a mystery.
Hezbollah and its close ally, the Syrian government, have denied any role in Hariri’s slaying almost a decade ago. The United Nations-backed trial is expected to last for months if not years.
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