Suicide bombings kill 23 near Iran embassy in Beirut


Two suicide bombings rocked Iran's embassy compound in Lebanon on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people including an Iranian cultural attaché and hurling bodies and burning wreckage across a debris-strewn street.

A Lebanon-based al Qaeda-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility and threatened further attacks unless Iran withdraws forces from Syria, where they have backed President Bashar Assad's 2-1/2-year-old war against rebels.

Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy in Beirut before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound had caused the second, deadlier explosion. The Lebanese army, however, said both blasts were suicide attacks.

In a Twitter post, Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the religious guide of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said the group had carried out the attack. “It was a double martyrdom operation by two of the Sunni heroes of Lebanon,” he wrote.

Lebanon has suffered a series of sectarian clashes and bomb attacks on Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim targets which have been linked to the Syrian conflict and which had already killed scores of people this year.

Tuesday's bombing took place on the eve of more talks between world powers and Iran over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. They came close to agreeing an interim deal during negotiations earlier this month.

The bombs also struck as Assad's forces extended their military gains in Syria before peace talks which the United Nations hopes to convene in mid-December and which Iran says it is ready to attend.

Shi'ite Iran actively supports Assad against mostly Sunni rebels, and two of its Revolutionary Guard commanders have been killed in Syria this year. Along with fighters from the Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, Iran has helped to turn the tide in Assad's favor at the expense of rebels backed and armed by Sunni powers Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

CULTURAL ATTACHE KILLED

A Reuters cameraman at the scene counted six bodies outside one entrance to the embassy compound. Body parts were strewn as far as two streets away and several cars were badly damaged.

The embassy's sturdy metal gate was twisted by the blasts, which Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said killed 23 people and wounded 146.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the bombs were “an inhuman and vicious act perpetrated by Israel and its terror agents”, Iran's IRNA news agency reported.

Israeli lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi said his country had played no role. “The bloodshed in Beirut is a result of Hezbollah's involvement in the Syria crisis. Israel was not involved in the past and was not involved here,” he said in Jerusalem.

Iran's ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi identified one of the dead as Ebrahim Ansari, a cultural attaché at the embassy.

A Lebanese security source said the bombers struck just before Roknabadi and Ansari had been due to leave the embassy for a meeting at Lebanon's Culture Ministry, as embassy guards were preparing a convoy of cars to take them.

Fires engulfed cars outside the embassy and the facades of some buildings were torn off. Shattered glass covered the bloodied streets and some trees were uprooted, but the embassy's well-fortified building itself suffered relatively minor damage.

“Whoever carries out such an attack in these sensitive circumstances, from whichever faction, knows directly or indirectly that he is serving the interests of the Zionist entity (Israel),” Roknabadi said.

He did not say whether other embassy officials were among the dead, but Lebanese TV stations quoted Iranian diplomatic sources as saying none of their staff in the embassy was hurt.

CONDEMNATION

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned what he described as a “shocking terrorist attack” and France expressed “solidarity with the Lebanese and Iranian authorities”.

Politicians from across Lebanon's Sunni, Shi'ite and Christian communities also condemned the attack.

In Syria, the government said its soldiers took full control of the town of Qara, which straddles a highway from Damascus to government strongholds on the coast and is also used by Sunni rebels to cross into Syria from Lebanon.

The capture of Qara may mark the start of a wider offensive by the army, which has been backed by Hezbollah and Shi'ite fighters from Iraq, to recapture the mountainous border region of Qalamoun and consolidate Assad's control of territory around Damascus and close to the Lebanese border.

Hezbollah's military role in Syria has helped to inflame sectarian tension there and in Lebanon. Many Lebanese Sunnis back the Syrian rebels, while many Shi'ites support Assad, whose minority Alawite sect derives from Shi'ite Islam.

Ayham Kamel, Middle East analyst with Eurasia Group, said the embassy bombing was an attempt by supporters of the Sunni rebels to weaken Hezbollah and Iran's support for Assad, undermine the Qalamoun campaign and possibly pressure Tehran before Wednesday's nuclear talks.

“While sectarian tensions in Lebanon will increase, Hezbollah's retaliatory response will be centered on Syria where (it) will further commit military forces to eliminate the Sunni rebel threat along the Syrian-Lebanese borders,” he said.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigade has strong links in Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps as well as connections with the Gulf. Two of its senior military leaders are Saudi nationals, said Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

“This attack is a significant escalation. After months and months of speculation, an al Qaeda-linked group has now underlined its involvement in the Syria-related Lebanese theatre,” he said.

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting radical militants, who have been blamed for previous attacks against Shi'ite targets.

Footage from local news channels showed charred bodies on the ground as flames rose from stricken vehicles. Emergency workers and residents carried victims away in blankets.

“These kinds of explosions are a new and dangerous development,” said the head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc in Lebanon, Mohammad Raad.

Southern Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, was hit by three explosions earlier this year. Those attacks were blamed on groups linked to the Syrian rebels, believed to be in retaliation for the group's military role in Syria.

Three decades ago, Iranian-backed Shi'ite militants carried out devastating suicide bombings in Lebanon that hit the U.S. embassy, as well as U.S., French and Israeli military bases.

Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes, Mariam Karouny and Stephen Kalin in Beirut and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Samia Nakhoul, Alistair Lyon and David Stamp

Hamas leader calls for third intifada


A senior Hamas leader called for a third intifada, including suicide bus bombings in Israel.

Hamas Jerusalem bureau chief Ahmed Halabiyeh on Tuesday called for new, violent action against Israel,  saying that ”we must renew the resistance to occupation in any possible way, above all through armed resistance.” He called for “a third intifada to save the Aksa Mosque and Jerusalem.”

The call came in response to the approval for construction of thousands of apartments in eastern Jerusalem and the E1 area near Ma'aleh Adumim.

Also on Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a conference that Israel is “on the verge of a third intifada,” Ynet reported.

“If we continue to refuse peace, we will be dealt a painful blow that will affect all aspects of our lives,” he said.

Report: Calls between Lebanon and Burgas increased before attack


Israel has evidence of many telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas in the two months before the bombing that killed six people, The New York Times reported.

The volume of calls intensified in the three days before the attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists, the newspaper reported Thursday, citing an unnamed senior government official, pointing the finger even more directly—in Israel’s eyes—at the terror group Hezbollah.

“We know the sources in Lebanon,” although not the identity of those on the other end in Bulgaria, the official told the Times.

Israel placed the blame for the July 18 attack on both Iran and Hezbollah. The United States and Bulgaria reportedly agree with the assessment, but have not said so officially.

The Bulgarian investigation has “largely stalled,” according to The New York Times. The attacker and his accomplices have not yet been identified. Bulgarian officials are hesitant to declare Hezbollah responsible without hard evidence, according to the newspaper.

An unnamed senior security official in Germany was quoted as saying that the European allies are skeptical that Hezbollah was responsible for the attack, speculating that Iran used “individuals with Hezbollah affiliation.” 

Bombing at Moscow airport seen as terrorism [VIDEO]


A bombing at the busiest airport in Moscow that killed at least 31 and injured 130 is being called a terrorist attack by Russian officials.

“From the preliminary information we have, it was a terror attack,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said of Monday’s attack on the Domodedovo Airport in a televised briefing.

Medvedev also said that those responsible for the attack would be “tracked down and punished.”

All Moscow transportation services went on high alert following the attack. Israel canceled all flights to Moscow.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was not sure whether any of the victims were Israeli.

In March 2010, two female Chechen suicide bombers blew themselves up in the metro system, killing 40. In 2004, two suicide bombers boarded separate planes at the same airport and blew themselves up in midair, killing all 90 people aboard the two flights.

Palestinian terror reaches Eilat


Eilat generally has escaped the violence of the six-year Palestinian intifada, but even its remote setting couldn’t forever insulate the Red Sea resort city from the region’s tensions.

A suicide bomber struck Monday morning at a small bakery in the usually serene city, killing three Israelis when he detonated his explosives belt in a residential area. It was the first suicide bombing in Israel’s southernmost city, built on the edge of the Red Sea with views of Jordan and Egypt.

“It was awful — there was smoke, pieces of flesh all over the place,” Benny Mazgini, 45, who ran to the bakery from a building across the street, told Israel Radio.

The scene was a foreign one in Eilat, whose luxury hotels, restaurants and nightclubs have made it popular with foreign tourists and Israelis.

“It’s without a doubt a terrible incident that the town of Eilat is not accustomed to,” Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi said. “The thought that infiltrators could enter Eilat alive and disrupt the running of the town is very worrying.”

Israel decided not to resume assassinating Palestinian terrorist leaders in the wake of the bombing. Security sources said Tuesday that Defense Minister Amir Peretz turned down a request by top military brass to permit targeting of heads of Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aksa Brigades, which both claimed responsibility for the bombing.

The Defense Ministry declined comment, but Peretz hinted that Israel wanted more time to decide on its response.

“The initiative will be ours, and we have no intention of relaying what we plan to do,” he told reporters during a tour of Eilat. “We will examine all means available for tackling the conduits, the current threats and the infrastructures” of the terrorist groups, he said.

The suicide bombing came after a relatively long stretch of calm inside Israel, and was the first such successful attack in nine months. Other attempted attacks have been foiled by Israeli security forces.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a Kadima faction meeting that for “a long time, Israel [had] enjoyed the illusion of quiet.”

Olmert stressed that in recent months, Israel had prevented numerous terror attacks.

The prime minster extended his condolences to the victims’ families and said that he had spoken with Halevi.

“I believe Eilat will overcome this blow and remain a happy city,” Olmert said.
Among the most worried in Eilat are those who work in its tourism industry, the basis of the city’s livelihood. Eilat was just beginning to recover from the wave of tourist cancellations that followed Israel’s war with Lebanon last summer, but some fear the attack could again scare off foreigners.

Miri Eisin, Olmert’s spokeswoman to the foreign press, tried to assuage fears.
“In 2006 we prevented many suicide attacks, and we will continue to do so,” Eisin said. “It’s safe to come to Israel, as it was in the past.”

Several Palestinian groups claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Islamic Jihad said the bomber was Mohammed Faisal al-Saqsaq, 21, from Gaza City.
Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Eilat suicide bombing.

“My position regarding this operation is that I do not accept it, and I reject and condemn it,” the Palestinian Authority president said Tuesday after talks in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

But Abbas voiced optimism that a truce he declared with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in December would hold.

“I do not think that this operation in particular will impact the calm between us and the Israelis in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Monday’s bombing was an embarrassment for Abbas’ Egyptian hosts, as the terrorist traveled to his target through the Sinai Peninsula.

Although peaceful by Israeli standards, the Eilat area has seen at least one other terror attack. In November 2003, a Jordanian armed with a Kalashnikov rifle crossed the border near Eilat and opened fire on a group of Christian pilgrims from Ecuador, killing one woman and injuring five others. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility at the time.

Israeli media reported that about six months ago, the Cabinet was informed by security officials that Egypt was observing an al-Qaida network operating in the Sinai desert. Several attacks in recent years have targeted Israelis and other foreigners along Sinai’s beaches.

Israel Buries Beersheba Bombing Victims


Avital Etash stares out from the front pages of Israel’s newspapers, a 4-year-old boy in a striped shirt and dark blue kippah, his dark eyes wide and curious.

Etash was the youngest of 16 people killed in Tuesday’s double suicide bombing in Beersheba. His mother lies in the hospital, still fighting for her life.

Again Israel turns to mourning the dead, but this time the list of those killed has been slow in coming. As the bombs used in suicide bombings become more sophisticated, producing deadlier and deadlier blasts, it takes more time to identify the remains of the dead.

But with every hourly news broadcast, the list of names grows longer.

Among the first to be buried Wednesday was a 23-year-old named Karin Malka who was on her way to her job with the Jewish Agency for Israel, working with Ethiopian immigrants at Beersheba’s absorption center. Her friends remember her as always cheerful, always smiling. In photographs she is seen grinning, her almond-shaped eyes sparkling.

Malka’s family recalls her eerie comments that seem now like a premonition: She told them she would likely die in a terrorist attack, and at last night’s Shabbat dinner she spoke at length about death and what might await in the next world.

Curious, her family had asked why she thought God so often lets young people die.

Malka, who about a year ago became observant, told them, "He wants to see them in the next world," Yediot Achronot reported.

Malka also was studying engineering at a nearby college.

"She was an amazing young woman … she gave her all working with the kids here," Tali Ya’akovin, the absorption center manager, told Ma’ariv. "It will be hard to explain to the children that she won’t be coming back."

Beersheba’s absorption center suffered a second loss with the death of Troint Tekleh, a 33-year-old mother of six who was also killed in the attack. Tekleh and her family had immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia about a year ago. They had been living in the absorption center but planned to move soon to an apartment of their own.

Tekleh’s youngest child was a 1-year-old baby boy. Members of the Ethiopian community quickly gathered to help, taking the family’s children home to rest while their father went to the hospital to identify her body.

The hero of the day was hailed as Ya’akov Cohen, the driver of bus No. 12, the second bus to explode. He said he stopped his bus as soon as he heard the first explosion.

"I opened the doors, the people asked me to, and I did it immediately," he said. Several people were able to escape before the second suicide bomber, sitting somewhere on Cohen’s bus, detonated his explosives belt.

On bus No. 6, the first to explode, a 65-year-old barber named Nissin Vakanin offered his seat to Tamara Batershuli, also 65.

A few minutes later the blast ripped through the bus. When Vakanin looked back, he saw the seat he had given up to the woman, saw that she was dead — and that the body of the man next to her was in shreds.

"I saw the body of the guy next to her and it was all ripped up. Then I realized he was the suicide bomber," Vakanin said, according to the Washington Post.

"My conscience is not quiet," Vakanin added. "I feel guilty that she died and not me."