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Blasts at Iranian embassy in Beirut kill at least 23

Two explosions rocked the Iranian Embassy compound in Beirut on Tuesday killing at least 23 people and injuring scores, according to the Lebanese Health Ministry. The Iranian ambassador, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, confirmed on Al Manar television that the cultural attaché, identified as Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari, was killed in the attack. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which seemed to fit a pattern of deepening sectarian division across the region inspired by the civil war in Syria.

The area where the attack took place, Bir Hassan, is populated by Shiite Muslims. Apart from the Iranian diplomatic mission, it also houses an office of the Shiite Amal Party, an ally of Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group that is sponsored by Tehran and which has sent its militia forces to fight rebels in neighboring Syria.

Residents and news reports said two explosions targeting the three-story Iranian Embassy damaged at least six buildings in the embassy compound. But there was initial confusion about whether the explosions were caused by rocket fire or a car bomb.

Television images showed charred bodies in a rubble-strewn street lined with cars set on fire by the explosion and blackened trees. Bystanders were seen fleeing in panic. Al Manar, a broadcaster aligned with Hezbollah, reported that the attack began when a car bomb exploded a few yards away from the embassy. A motorcycle being ridden into the embassy compound after the first blast exploded before it got to the embassy, Manar said.

That account tallied with news reports that one blast blew out the main gate to the embassy compound and a second detonated nearby. Workers at a restaurant 100 yards from the embassy said there had been two explosions, the second one much stronger than the first.

The attack followed earlier blasts in July and August against Hezbollah targets in the organization’s southern Beirut stronghold. The explosion came as the Syrian government pressed an offensive on three fronts: in the southern suburbs of Damascus, near the northern city of Aleppo and in the Qalamoun region bordering Lebanon, where the town of Qara has been under heavy bombardment, driving about 10,000 new refugees into Lebanon.

Lebanon already hosts more than a million Syrians in a country of just four million people. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, which is also Lebanon’s most powerful political party, declared in a speech last week that the group would continue to fight in Syria for as long as necessary.

Hezbollah and the Syrian government are close allies, with the Syrians providing a land bridge for Hezbollah’s weapons supplies from Iran and Hezbollah fighting on important fronts in the Syrian conflict.

But Hezbollah’s involvement has been controversial within Lebanon, where the militant group justifies its independent militia as necessary to defend Lebanon from Israel, but where its opponents object to its fighting fellow Arab Muslims in Syria.

Angelina Eichhorst, the European Union’s envoy in Lebanon, condemned the bombing on Tuesday on Twitter, calling it a “despicable senseless act of violence causing death of too many innocent people.”

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