Death toll in Lebanon bombings rises to 47

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Lebanese officials said Saturday the death toll from a devastating twin car bombing outside two mosques in the northern city of Tripoli on Friday has risen to 47.

The coordinated explosions in the predominantly Sunni city have raised already simmering sectarian tensions in fragile Lebanon to dangerous levels, heightening fears the country could be slipping into a cycle of revenge attacks between its Sunni and Shiite communities. For many Lebanese, the bombings also were seen as the latest evidence that Syria’s bloody civil war, with its dark sectarian overtones, is increasingly drawing in its smaller neighbour.

Lebanese police officials said Saturday some 300 people, 65 of them in critical condition, were still in the hospital with wounds sustained in the attacks. Another 200 people had minor injuries, the officials said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The blasts were clearly intended to cause maximum civilian casualties, timed to go off at midday Friday outside the Taqwa and Salam mosques, which are known to be filled with worshippers at that time on the Muslim day of prayer.

Local TV stations aired footage of the frantic first moments following the explosions: bodies scattered beside burning cars, charred victims trapped in smoking vehicles and bloodied casualties emerging from thick, black smoke being ferried away by screaming residents.

While there has been no claim of responsibility for the attacks, many here link them to the civil war next door in Syria, where a Sunni-led insurgency is fighting to oust a regime dominated by President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah group has openly declared its guerrillas are fighting alongside Assad’s forces against the Syrian rebels, who enjoy both sympathy and support from many in Lebanon’s Sunni community.

Hezbollah’s overt role in the Syrian civil war has sent sectarian tensions soaring in Lebanon, and clashes on the country’s streets have erupted on numerous occasions in recent months. Preachers at both of the mosques targeted Friday are virulent critics of both Hezbollah and Assad.

Recently, small-scale clashes have taken a turn toward Iraq-style car bombings. Just over a week ago, a car bomb targeted an overwhelmingly Shiite district south of Beirut controlled by Hezbollah, killing 27 people.

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