A double suicide bombing outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed at least 23 people yesterday in an attack claimed by a jihadist group.
The attack, which also wounded almost 150 people in a southern Beirut stronghold of the Hezbollah movement, was the first time the Iranian embassy in Lebanon had been targeted.
The blasts ripped the facades off surrounding buildings, strewing rubble and glass on streets that were stained with blood.
Residents walked dazed past charred cars and trees, as soldiers and Hezbollah security men tried to secure the area.
The blasts follow two other bomb attacks this year in Hezbollah bastions in southern Beirut amid rising tensions over the conflict in neighboring Syria.
Iran is one of Syria’s closest allies and is the key sponsor of Hezbollah, which has dispatched thousands of fighters to bolster the regime as it battles a 32-month-old uprising.
Damascus quickly condemned the mid-morning blasts.
“The Syrian government firmly condemns the terrorist attack carried out near the Iranian embassy in Beirut,” state television said.
It said an “odour of petrodollars comes from all the terrorist acts against Syria, Lebanon and Iraq,” an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which back Syria’s uprising.
Iran also condemned the attack, accusing Israel and its “mercenaries” of responsibility. Israel immediately denied involvement.
The blasts were claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a jihadist group.
“This is a double martyrdom operation carried out by two heroes from the heroic Sunnis of Lebanon,” Sirajeddin Zreikat, a member of the group, wrote on his Twitter account.
The Lebanese army confirmed the attack was a double suicide bombing and the health ministry said 23 people were dead and 146 wounded.
Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Rokn-Abadi said all staff inside the embassy at the time of the attack escaped unharmed.
A correspondent at the scene described blood and glass on the streets, and Lebanese media broadcast harrowing images of charred bodies, some still on fire.
One shocked resident said the attack was an act of “savagery.”
“People want to live. After this kind of thing we are paralyzed for days. Thank God my children were at school,” said Farah, a woman in her 30s.