BEIRUT: Lebanese officials and politicians as well as international diplomats condemned Thursday the deadly car bombing that struck a southern suburb of Beirut, urging rival parties to engage in dialogue in a bid to counter the growing threat of terrorism in the country.
President Michel Sleiman, who offered his condolences to the victims of the blast, accused the perpetrators of planting “criminality and murder and destruction in all Lebanese areas.”
He called on security forces to intensify investigations in order to find the culprits and stressed the need for unity and dialogue between political powers.
Speaker Nabih Berri said the car bombing in Haret Hreik was part of the “series of conspiracies targeting Lebanon and its national unity.”
He also said he believed those behind the attack were also responsible for last week’s assassination of former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah.
“This crime is aimed at terrorizing citizens, misleading and creating the impression that there are many hands committing the crimes,” he said.
Hezbollah’s second in command, Sheikh Naim Qassem, told Al-Manar television station that Thursday’s blast was part of an ongoing series targeting “the Lebanese people and not Hezbollah.”
Qassem said the response to the bombing should be found through political understanding and should include the formation of a national unity government, adding: “ Lebanon will fall on the path to destruction if there is no political understanding.”
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a staunch critic of Hezbollah, said affected citizens were suffering as a result of the party’s role in Syria.
They “are victims of the involvement in foreign wars, especially the Syrian war. Providing cover for this war or participating in it will never be in the interest of Lebanon and the citizens of the southern suburbs,” he said in a statement released Thursday.
Hariri also said that any terror attack targeting civilians was a “satanic act,” adding that the only way to defend Lebanon was to protect national unity and recognize the role of the state.
Meanwhile, Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, called on individuals to rally together and not exercise exclusion “because the act of excluding the other and accusing him will increase acts of terrorism left and right.”
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said a “fire was burning” in more than one area in Lebanon and it would spread if the Lebanese did not stand together, “away from the language of defiance and unilateralism and exclusion.”
Mikati also said that the explosion proved that terrorism “does not distinguish between Lebanese” and does not want stability.
At least five civilians were killed and dozens of others wounded in the car bomb in Haret Hreik, a southern suburb of Beirut where Hezbollah enjoys broad support.
Thursday’s blast comes less than a week after the car bomb in Downtown Beirut that killed Shatah and seven other people.
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam said that the bombing was “a new episode in a series targeting civil peace.”
He said the response to the crime should be marked by awareness and wisdom by “raising the level of vigilance and working honestly, despite major political differences.”
Caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said terrorism targeted all areas and all individuals in order to create sectarian strife among them.
“At this moment the repeated and only call is to hold onto national unity, which can save us from some of these explosions and security challenges we are facing,” Hasan Khalil said outside Beirut’s Bahman Hospital, where many of those wounded by the explosion were being treated.
Damascus also denounced the bombing and said that the fight against terrorism was an international responsibility.
“Syria strongly condemns the terrorist explosion in Beirut’s southern suburbs today and considers it an act of terrorism,” Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said.
“The war on terror is the duty of all nations of the world and the perpetrators must be punished, as should organizations supporting terrorism.”
Future parliamentary bloc leader MP Fouad Siniora stressed the need to exert all efforts to save Lebanon and return stability to the country.
Speaking on behalf of the Future Movement, Siniora condemned the bombing and called on “all Lebanese to look into how to find a way out of this dark tunnel so as to save Lebanon and the Lebanese from such atrocities.”
Future MP Ammar Houri echoed Hariri’s comments, saying that Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syria conflict was the cause of such attacks.
“Perhaps the involvement of some inside Syria has opened the doors of hell on Lebanon,” Houri told local station MTV.
“These doors should close and we should return to our homes and protect the blood of our citizens.”
Head of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun said there was a deliberate attempt at silencing the language of reason and inciting strife.
“Everyone is targeted, and has been placed in a position of self-defense,” Aoun said.
Meanwhile, head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea said his party “denounced all terrorist acts,” adding that the solution lay with upholding the Constitution.
Sidon MP Bahia Hariri said that the bombing affected all of the Lebanese and was aimed at inciting strife in the country.
“This heinous crime which targeted the security and safety of our people in the southern suburbs of Beirut through the vicious explosion ... affects all the Lebanese to the core, and it is a double crime as it carries the fingerprints of strife, and strife is stronger than murder,” a statement by Hariri said.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai also denounced the blast, and called on both sides of the political spectrum to engage in dialogue and take “bold steps and assume responsibility to spare Lebanon more tragedy and loss.”
On Twitter, British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher condemned “unequivocally [Thursday’s] callous attack in Beirut.”
British Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson released a statement condemning the blast, adding that the U.K. government was “fully committed to supporting the future stability of Lebanon.”
United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly denounced the bombing and “the indiscriminate nature” of such attacks, according to a statement.
“It is deeply distressing to have to condemn yet another appalling act of terrorism, the latest in the number which have killed and injured so many innocent people in this country,” he added.
In a statement, the French Foreign Ministry said: “France supports Lebanese authorities in their determination to fight all forms of terrorism as well as their commitment to fighting impunity.”
A statement on the American Embassy in Lebanon’s Twitter feed read: “We condemn today’s terrorist bombing in #Dahieh #Beirut. Our condolences to the victims and their families.”
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby offered his condolences to the families of the bombing victims and asserted the league’s “full support” for Lebanon and for its security and stability.
Former Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss denounced the blast and called on all Lebanese politicians from across the political spectrum to maintain a language of reason “in order to preserve the interests of the country and to disallow whoever wants to incite strife the chance to do so.”
Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan also condemned the blast, adding that it was time the country realized the seriousness of “the conspiracy which is targeting all Lebanese – with no exceptions.”