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Bomb kills 1, wounds 28 in northern Lebanon

At least one person was killed and 28 others wounded early Saturday when a bomb ripped through an apartment building in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, security officials said.
Mideast Lebanon Violence
Lebanese citizens remove rubble from their damaged apartments Saturday after a first-floor bomb exploded in the five-story building in the Bab el-Tabaneh district, whose Sunni Muslim residents support the government.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

At least one person was killed and 28 others wounded early Saturday when a bomb ripped through an apartment building in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, security officials said.

The explosion occurred in an area that was the scene of fierce sectarian fighting last week between government and opposition supporters, in which nine people were killed and 44 others wounded.

Saturday's blast was caused by a bomb placed in an elevator in the building in Tripoli's Bab el-Tabaneh district, whose Sunni Muslim residents support the government, said the officials in Beirut and Tripoli. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Some of the wounded were in critical condition, the officials said.

Heavy damage to buildings
The explosion caused heavy damage to the building and nearby buildings, the state-run National News Agency reported. It said the sound of the blast forced hundreds of panicked residents out of their beds and into the street to help rescue efforts.

Shortly after the blast, three people were hit by sniper's fire in the pro-government district, the security officials said. The source of the fire came from the pro-opposition neighborhood, they said.

Sunni Muslim government supporters from the Bab el-Tabaneh district and Alawite followers of the Hezbollah-led opposition in the nearby Jabal Mohsen neighborhood fought last week for two days before the army and police deployed Monday to quell violence.

Despite the army and police presence, tension has been rising between the two sides. About 20 houses in both neighborhoods were torched this week in apparent acts of revenge. Hours before Saturday's bomb blast, two men were wounded when a hand grenade was thrown at the motorbike they were riding in the pro-government district, the officials said.

The violence in the north comes as Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora struggles to form a national unity Cabinet in line with a peace deal signed in May, which ended an 18-month political crisis that nearly plunged Lebanon into a new civil war.

Most in Tripoli support government
Located 50 miles north of Beirut, Tripoli is Lebanon's second largest city and is predominantly Sunni Muslim, a majority of which support the government. But it is also home to Alawites, a small offshoot of Shiite Islam that is allied with Syria and the Lebanese opposition, led by the Shiite militant Hezbollah group.

The same area had witnessed heavy fighting last month, when pro-government gunmen and militias loyal to the opposition clashed after Hezbollah militants overran streets in Beirut.

The violence in May killed 81, and was Lebanon's worst since the 1975-90 conflict.

It prompted rival factions to agree to an Arab-brokered plan signed May 21 in Doha, Qatar, that calls for the forming of a 30-member Cabinet in which Hezbollah and its allies have veto power over government decisions. Former army chief Michel Suleiman was elected by parliament as a consensus president May 25.

Suleiman on Saturday blamed political tensions between the pro-government parliamentary majority and the opposition for the outbreak of sectarian violence in the country. He called for the formation of a national unity Cabinet in the next 48 hours.

"There is no reason for a national unity Cabinet not to be formed," Suleiman said in a statement released by his office Saturday.

A similar call for a quick formation of the Cabinet also came from Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, the spiritual leader of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, to deal with the "grave situation" in the country. Kabbani denounced the bomb explosion in Tripoli as "a criminal act," saying it was designed to inflame sectarian strife.