- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

BEIRUT — The latest bomb blast, which killed three persons in a predominantly Christian suburb of Beirut yesterday, revived fears of a terror campaign to divide the country and demonstrate a need for departing Syrian troops to remain.

The 2 a.m. bombing of a major shopping center in Kaslik, about 10 miles north of Beirut, came just hours before the judge investigating last month’s assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri resigned.

Five days earlier, another bomb wounded nine in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut.

The Christian opposition group Qornet Shehwan denounced yesterday’s attack as the work of security forces intent on destabilizing the country.

“It has become clear to everyone that the security regime and its collaborators are responsible for terrorizing the people that united behind the demands of the opposition,” the group said.

The Hariri assassination — a bombing that also killed 17 persons in downtown Beirut — unified political opposition to Syria’s military and political control of Lebanon and sparked domestic and international pressure on Syria to withdraw.

Sunni Muslim supporters of Mr. Hariri joined with Druze and Christian groups to call for a withdrawal of Syrian intelligence and military personnel, the resignations of Lebanese security officials and free elections to replace the government they call a proxy for Syria.

At the scene of yesterday’s bombing, witnesses and police said the explosion killed three Indian or Sri Lankan maintenance workers.

“Thank God it did not go off during the day or even at midnight, when this place is crowded with people,” said a police official, who refused to give his name.

“If you want to confront us, then confront us directly, don’t be cowards and plant bombs,” shouted one woman in front of a designer boutique.

Ghinwa Jalloul, who is both member of parliament and part of Mr. Hariri’s electoral bloc, said that no matter who actually placed the bombs, the responsibility falls to Lebanese security officials who failed to prevent both this bombing and Mr. Hariri’s killing.

“These bombs are signs of neglect by the security regime,” she said. “I sincerely hope that they are not intended to be a political message to anyone.”

But she said she suspects that the bombers are the same forces that killed Mr. Hariri.

Most opposition members remain convinced that either Syrian or pro-Syrian factions killed the former prime minister. They fear that the latest bombings are intended to divide Lebanon in a repeat of the bloody civil war that originally brought Syrian troops to Lebanon nearly 30 years ago.

Opposition leaders cited the resignation of Michel Abou Arraj, the investigating judge for the Hariri bombing, as a sign that the security apparatus continues to flounder as the investigation continues.

A U.N. report on the Hariri assassination is to be released today.

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