Image: Dousing the flames iafter Beirut blast
Mahmoud Tawil  /  AP
A firefighter extinguishes burning cars at the site of Friday's bombing in Beirut. A police official who dealt with terrorist bombings was among those killed in the blast.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/25/2008 5:33:55 AM ET 2008-01-25T10:33:55

A car bomb exploded in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut on Friday killing at least five people, including a top police official who dealt with terrorist bombings, authorities said.

National police chief, Brig. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, said the bomb was planted on a street in Hazmieh, on the Lebanese capital's Christian eastern edge.

He told reporters that one of those killed was Capt. Wissam Eid, a senior police intelligence official.

Eid was an engineer who was handling "very important" files, including "all those having to do with the terrorist bombings" in Lebanon, Rifi said.

Eid took up his post after his predecessor Samir Shehadeh was wounded by a roadside bomb south of Beirut in 2006.

Eid's bodyguard also was killed, Rifi said, in addition to three or four civilians. The Lebanese Red Cross said four people were killed and 20 wounded, the state-run National News Agency said.

Lebanon has been hit by a series of explosions, some of them political assassinations, amid a deepening 14-month political crisis.

Friday's blast came a day after a labor strike that was largely peaceful, and 10 days after a car bomb aimed at a U.S. Embassy car killed three bystanders.

Last month a car bomb killed the army's chief of operations, Brig. Gen. Francois Haj, in east Beirut.

Links to U.N. probe
The police intelligence unit has been closely involved in the U.N.-led investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and in a crackdown on al-Qaida-inspired militants.

Firemen sprayed water over blazing cars and debris scattered over a road in the suburb of Hazmiyeh. A charred corpse was visible in one car. Body parts were strewn on the road.

Dozens of vehicles were damaged in the explosion, which ripped a large crater in the road.

Unit has been attacked before
Interior Minister Hassan al-Sabaa told LBC television that Eid had been a key member of the police intelligence unit and had been attacked before.

Video: Beirut car bomb "This will not affect our morale and it will not make us change course in piloting the country to safety," he said.

The majority coalition accuses Syria of being behind al-Hariri's assassination and many of the 30 or more bombings that have hit Lebanon in the last three years. Many have been against anti-Syrian politicians and journalists.

Damascus denies any involvement.

Bombers have also attacked U.N. peacekeepers in the south, while a revolt by al-Qaida-inspired Islamist militants in the north last year further undermined Lebanon's stability.

Apart from its security problems, Lebanon is in the thick of a long-running political conflict pitting the Western-backed ruling coalition against the Hezbollah-led opposition.

The dispute has paralyzed government for more than a year and blocked election of a new president, leaving Lebanon with no head of state for the first time since its 1975-90 civil war.

Rival factions have agreed that army commander Michel Suleiman should be the next president, but remain at odds over how to share power in a future national unity government.

Mediation by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa has failed to bridge the gulf. He is due to report on his efforts to Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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