Twin bus bombings in a Christian neighborhood north of Beirut killed at least three people and injured nearly 20 today, an act of apparently sectarian violence that echoed the daily chaos in Iraq as well as Lebanon's earlier civil war.
After two years of sporadic and targeted political killings -- including the assassinations of a prime minister, an influential Christian leader, and a leading opposition journalist -- the random assault on two public mini-buses marked a disturbing turn.
The buses -- smaller vehicles used for public transport around the city -- had left for their morning routes, picking up passengers along the winding mountain passes near the town of Bikfaya. The explosives, apparently planted on the vehicles overnight, detonated about 15 minutes apart, near the same spot in the predominantly Christian neighborhood.
The blasts scattered debris and body parts across the area, ripping the side off of one vehicle and the roof off of another.
Initial estimates by police were that three people were killed and 19 injured.
"Look at this," said Naji Qusayer, 37, pointing with a cigarette at the chaotic scene. "Why would someone target civilians? There was no one else on board except civilians. Shame on them."
The explosions come amid an ongoing political crisis in the country, with the Shiite-backed Hezbollah group attempting to bring down the pro-U.S. government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
The area targeted today is a stronghold of Christian leader and former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel, who just returned from a trip to Washington and a meeting with President Bush. Gemayel's son Pierre, a cabinet minister, was assassinated last fall.
Under a peace accord that ended the country's 1975-1990 civil war, political power is carefully divided in Lebanon among its Shiite, Sunni and Christian sects -- a formula that for a decade spared the country from the type of violence now consuming Iraq.
But Hezbollah, the main Shiite party, has been pushing for a larger share of authority -- particularly since it absorbed the brunt of a month-long military confrontation with Israel over the summer. That confrontation was triggered by Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers -- a fact that turned many in the country firmly against the militant group.
Hezbollah has staged mass protests against Siniora in recent weeks, and scores of protesters' tents remain pitched outside the main government building.
Tomorrow, a counter demonstration is expected to mark the two-year anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Along with condemning the attack, political leaders speculated that the bombs were meant as a warning to those expected to commemorate Hariri's death, an event that reordered Lebanese politics and pressured neighboring Syria to end its longstanding military presence in the country. Hariri, at the time he died, was among those resisting Syrian involvement.
The bombings are "to terrorize people who are willing to come," Walid Jumblatt, one of the country's leading political figures and a supporter of the government, told Al-Jazeera television, the Associated Press reported.