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Beirut Car Bomb Kills 30, Jolts Hope for Lessened Violence in Wake of Civil War : Mideast: Most victims are women and children in apartments and shoppers. Scores are wounded.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A devastating car bomb Monday killed at least 30 people and wounded scores more in a Beirut slum district, jolting hopes for diminished violence in the Lebanese capital.

The explosion rocked the teeming neighborhood of Basta, a predominantly Shiite Muslim quarter on the capital’s western side. Police reported no obvious target, although Basta is a stronghold of the radical Hezbollah militia.

The victims, typical of the 15-year civil war that was declared ended last year, were innocents: women and children trapped in burning apartment buildings and customers of small shops buried in the rubble.

The bomb was concealed in a Mercedes-Benz sedan parked about 25 yards from a boys’ school--which fortunately was closed for the New Year holiday. Police estimated the explosive charge at more than 200 pounds; it blew a hole six feet deep in a street crowded with holiday shoppers during the morning rush hour.

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Fifty yards away was a checkpoint of the Syrian army, which has been unable to staunch the violence of Beirut despite the collapse of a Christian rebellion 14 months ago. On Nov. 8, another large car bomb destroyed the administration building of the American University of Beirut, on the seaside north of Basta. None of Lebanon’s myriad militias claimed responsibility for that bombing; none declared a role in Monday’s fatal explosion.

This apparently was one of the highest death tolls in a Beirut car bombing since July, 1986, when 32 people died in East Beirut; in May, 1985, 42 people were killed in a bombing, also in East Beirut. Monday’s blast wounded at least 120, according to hospital reports. Among them was former Prime Minister Shafik Wazzan. His armored car was passing through the area when the bomb exploded. Wazzan was treated for undisclosed injuries.

Car bombs, a specialty of murderous militias, have now killed about 60 Beirutis since the civil war was declared at an end with the defeat of Christian strongman Michel Aoun’s renegade forces by Syrian-spearheaded Muslim soldiers in October, 1990. Earlier this year, the reconstituted Lebanese army disarmed all the lawless militia bands except Hezbollah, which refused to lay down its weapons.

All factions--including the Syrian army, which has been deployed in Lebanon since 1976--have been accused of car bombings, a vicious tactic that often gets its target, normally a politician in a passing car, but invariably kills innocent bystanders as well.

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News reports from the scene said the bomb was detonated in an intersection jammed with traffic, pedestrians and vendors’ carts. The explosive force had a mile-wide radius, damaging at least five buildings, wrecking cars and starting fires. A butcher shop, bakery and small market were reportedly gutted. One reporter said women and children were trapped on balconies of burning buildings as canisters of cooking gas blew up around them.

“This is a residential area. Poor people!” Mohammed Salman, 24, a student who returned home from Australia to visit his family and narrowly escaped injury, told Reuters news service. “I dared to come back, as I thought the war was over. It isn’t.”


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