In the bloodiest such incident in Lebanon's capital since 2008, the bombing killed at least eight people and wounded more than 90 others during the afternoon in the crowded neighborhood. It destroyed cars, seriously damaged buildings and left a large, smoking crater near Sassine Square. Residents in the area ran in panic or took wounded survivors to nearby hospitals as security forces rushed into the area.
No one had claimed responsibility for the blast by evening, but suspicion immediately focused on Syria and pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon. The bomb reportedly detonated near the offices of an anti-Syrian political group that helped force the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005. According to Reuters, the blast also killed a top Lebanese security official whose investigations implicated Syria in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. He also played a key role in the investigation and arrest of a pro-Syrian politician in Beirut several weeks ago.
Syrian government officials, however, quickly condemned the attack, calling it "cowardly" and a terrorist action.
In several parts of Lebanon, there have been reports of blocked roads and gunfire in protest of the bombing.
"Pray that it wouldn't escalate into further violence," a Christian worker in Lebanon appealed. "It's easy in this kind of situation for people to jump to conclusions and assume they know who did it and why. Things have been tense already.
"When something like this happens, it makes you feel insecure and scared. Pray that in the midst of it, people would be open to Jesus and seek out the real source of security. The other thing that comes to mind is that this happened in a Christian neighborhood. Pray that people there would respond like Christians, not be Christian in name only. Pray there would be forgiveness rather than speculation and retribution and revenge. Pray that people would reach out to each other and minister in the name of Jesus."
Many Lebanese -- whether Christian, Muslim or members of the nation's numerous other religious groups -- fear the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad wants to create conflict in Lebanon and other neighboring countries to distract attention from the increasingly bloody civil war in Syria. They fear the war, which has sent tens of thousands of Syrian refugees over the border and sparked clashes in several Lebanese towns, will spill more widely into Lebanon.
The Syrian civil war has become a struggle between that nation's ruling Alawite sect, linked historically to Shi'ite Islam, and Sunni Muslim rebels. Some factions in Lebanon support Assad and the Alawites; others oppose him. The Syrian conflict has reopened old wounds Lebanon has been trying to heal since its own 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.
"Pray that the voice of Christ would really speak into the midst of chaos — rather than the voices of fear, anger and hostility," said another Christian worker. "A lot of people are looking for someone to blame and retaliate against. Pray that innocent people wouldn't be targets, whether Syrians, Lebanese, Christians or Muslims. We want justice to be done, but not at the expense of a true expression of biblical grace. They go hand in hand."
Reported by International Mission Board staff.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net