A car bomb exploded in the densely populated southern suburbs of Muslim West Beirut on Monday, killing at least 15 people, wounding 80 and touching off a fierce blaze at a gasoline station.
A private radio station said the blast was aimed at the main headquarters of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, or Party of God, but police could not immediately confirm the report.
The mainstream Shia Muslim Amal militia accused Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat of engineering the blast.
"It is a gift carrying death from Arafat," an Amal statement said.
Amal militiamen are battling to drive Palestinian guerrillas from two refugee camps near the blast scene.
Police said an estimated 165 pounds of explosives packed inside a white Mercedes sedan went off at 3 p.m. near the gasoline station and three apartment buildings in the Rwais district. The car, parked on a main road, blew up as children were returning home from school.
Several motorists were trapped when their cars were engulfed by flames that also destroyed at least five stores.
It was the third car bomb explosion this year in Beirut but the first in the Muslim half of the capital.
A total of 12 people died in two car bombings in Christian East Beirut in January. At least 150 people were killed and 1,000 wounded in a series of bomb attacks in East and West Beirut last year.
Small Blast Wounds 4
The blast Monday came a few hours after a small bomb exploded in front of a vegetable market in another sector of Muslim West Beirut, wounding four people, including a 7-year-old girl.
The private Christian Voice of Lebanon radio said the car bomb was aimed at the main headquarters of the fundamentalist Hezbollah. The southern suburbs are a hotbed of Shia Muslim fundamentalism and a stronghold for Hezbollah and Amal, the Shia militia.
Militiamen fired into the air to clear the way for ambulances and fire engines racing to the scene of the bombing as rescue workers searched through the rubble for more casualties.
Call Goes Out for Blood
Hospitals issued calls on Muslim radio stations for blood donations as their wards and corridors filled up with the dead and wounded.
Four other people were killed and 12 wounded Monday in mortar and rocket duels between Palestinian guerrillas and Shia militiamen.
As rescuers carried away the casualties of the car bombing, the thud of exploding shells from the "camps war" echoed across the Shia slums of southern Beirut.
PLO artillery and rocket launchers, deployed in the mountains overlooking the city, pounded Amal strongholds in the Shia shantytowns surrounding the Chatilla and Borj el Brajne refugee camps.
Shia units hammered the camps with tank cannon and mortar fire, a police report said.
PLO communiques said the 35,000 Palestinian refugees in Borj el Brajne are enduring "acute shortages in food, drinking water and medical supplies."
About 200 Palestinian women and children demonstrated in residential districts of West Beirut controlled by neutral Druze militiamen of Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party. The protesters demanded an end to a blockade of the camps.
"Stop the war of hunger against our people," the demonstrators chanted. "Bread, Water and Medicine for the Besieged Camps," a placard read.