Image: Lebanese explosives experts
Anwar Amro  /  AFP - Getty Images
Lebanese explosives experts enter the damaged underground parking structure in north Beirut after a bomb explosion Monday that injured two people.
updated 8/22/2005 6:32:36 PM ET 2005-08-22T22:32:36

A powerful explosion late Monday rocked a shopping center and hotel in the Zalka neighborhood in north Beirut, injuring at least two people and causing extensive damage, security officials said.

Heavily armed Lebanese soldiers cordoned off the area, punching and hitting journalists to keep them back.

Two workers could be seen helping a black-clad, veiled woman down the glass-covered front stairs of the Promenade Hotel. She appeared shaken but not injured.

Security forces were seen rounding up several suspects, including five men with their hands tied behind their backs. The were taken to a military vehicle.

Zalka Mayor Michel Murr told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. that the bomb was placed in an open area between the Centre Moussa shopping center and the hotel, which was packed with tourists. A busy Starbucks coffee shop sits across the street.

He said tourists were evacuated and none was injured.

Brig. Gen. Darwish Hobeika, commander of Lebanon's Civil Defense Corps, told Lebanese Broadcasting that two people were lightly injured and one Civil Defense rescuer was hurt.

Residents said black smoke billowed into the night sky near the hotel. Ambulances and fire engines responded to care for potential victims and put out the fire.

Zalka, on the Mediterranean coast, is a mixed residential and commercial area on a main street that leads to Lebanon's Christian heartland. The area has several cafes and restaurants and other nightspots that were full of patrons.

Latest in string of attacks
The explosion was the latest in a string of bombings that have killed or wounded politicians and other prominent figures in Lebanon since the February assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, an attack that rattled Lebanon's political and security foundations.

Bombs also have targeted commercial and industrial centers. The bomb that killed Hariri took 20 other lives, and explosions since then have killed at least six people, including a prominent politician and an anti-Syrian journalist. More than 50 people, including Lebanon's defense minister, have been injured.

The most recent explosion occurred July 23, just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a brief unannounced visit to Beirut. The blast in a busy Christian neighborhood wounded 12.

On July 12, a car bomb struck the motorcade of Lebanon's pro-Syrian defense minister, Elias Murr, in a Christian suburb north of Zalka. Murr was wounded, and one person died.

Hariri's assassination on a Beirut street, which many people blamed on Syria, triggered anti-Syrian protests at home and international pressure that eventually ended three decades of Syrian domination of Lebanon with the withdrawal of the Syrian army.

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