BEIRUT: Hezbollah denied Saturday sending out electronic messages urging residents of the Beirut southern suburbs to stay indoors, as police prepared to boost security measures across the country.
“We urge our noble people who live in the suburbs not to leave their homes except when necessary until Sunday for their own safety. We urge cooperation,” a message sent out to residents in various electronic messages, including on the popular WhatsApp, said.
A local newspaper said in its Saturday issue that the messages were being sent by Hezbollah.
But speaking to The Daily Star, Ibrahim Musawi, Hezbollah’s media spokesperson, categorically denied his party had sent the messages, describing them as a hoax.
A car bombing Thursday ripped through the Ruwaiss area in the southern Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik, a Hezbollah stronghold, killing dozens and wounding hundreds more.
A security source said Saturday the death toll from the attack, the deadliest explosion in three decades to hit the southern suburbs of Beirut, had risen to 25. Later in the day, Hezbollah's al-Manar TV said that the body of a child was found while teams cleared rubble from the blast site.
Thursday’s car bombing is the second in less than two months to target a stronghold of Hezbollah in the Lebanese capital.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah accused Friday jihadist groups of standing behind the two bombings and warned that further attacks could “put Lebanon on the verge of the abyss.”
Investigators are considering the possibility a suicide bomber may have carried out the attack.
Brig. Ibrahim Basbous, the acting head of the Internal Security Forces, ordered the police Saturday to up precautionary measures across Lebanon in light of the increasing number of security breaches.
“Brig. Ibrahim Basbous ... ordered Internal Security Forces units to intensify searches and monitoring along with organizing patrols, erecting checkpoints and taking the appropriate precautionary measures across Lebanese territories,” according to an ISF statement.
The statement asked citizens to dial a hotline, 112, to inform police of any “suspicious objects” and provide any information that might be of help to authorities.
In a statement Saturday, Hezbollah said the municipalities of Haret Hreik, Burj al-Barajneh and civil associations had begun to remove rubble and burned cars from Ruwaiss, “as a prelude to reopening the street, repairing damage and enabling people to return home.”
Hezbollah said the decision to clear the debris came after completion of investigations at the blast site.
Brig. Edmond Fadel, the director general of Army Intelligence, briefed President Michel Sleiman on the progress of the investigation, according to a statement from Baabda Palace.
Meanwhile, caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour predicted the Thursday incident would not be the last.
“There are cars planted with bombs that have entered Lebanon,” he told Sawt al-Mada radio station.
He also denied the Beirut suburb attacks were linked to Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.
“ Lebanon became a target before Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria. What Hezbollah is doing there [in Syria] aims at protecting Lebanon against what is more dangerous,” he said.
For his part, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora telephoned former Speaker Hussein Husseini, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the deputy-head of the Higher Shiite Council, and a host of Shiite clerics and politicians, extending his condolences over the incident.
“He [Siniora] considered the martyrs who died in this crime to be the martyrs of all Lebanon because they died as a result of a terrorist crime, which targeted innocent people who live or were by coincidence in the area targeted by terrorism and evil with the aim of sparking strife and divisions among Lebanese and Muslims” a statement from Siniora’s office said.
Siniora said that Lebanese leaders should adhere to policies that protect Lebanon, the interests and future of the Lebanese and their coexistence.
“In these moments, patience, wisdom and prudence are required along with the fixed and actual commitment to the disassociation policy and the items of the Baabda Declaration which protects Lebanon against rising dangers in our region,” Siniora said.