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Jounieh 06 May 2005  

Christian neighborhood again targeted in fifth bomb attack    by: Daily Star.

JOUNIEH: An explosion 9 p.m. Friday night in Jounieh has destroyed a radio station and church in the Christian heartland some 15 kilometers north of Beirut.
A mix of old stone buildings housing shops and residential apartments, the town was shaken by a bomb planted near the main square, outside the headquarters of the Sawt al-Mahabba (Voice of Charity) Christian radio station and neighboring St. John’s Maronite church. Both buildings were completely destroyed in the blast.
One Sri Lankan woman is reported to have died in the explosion and seven others – including three Egyptian workers – were seriously wounded.
Security officials on the scene, who were unable to confirm any fatalities, said 11 people, three of whom were suffering serious injuries, had been taken to hospital,while another 12 had received minor injuries from flying shards of glass.
Police estimated the bomb at some 20 kilograms of explosives, but could not immediately tell whether it was placed in, under or next to a car parked on the street.
But according to one security official,who spoke on condition of anonymity,"It is certain, however, that the bomb was placed outside the church."
The explosion noisily ended several weeks of silence following a spate of bombings in March and April of commercial areas in Christian areas and opposition strongholds.
Earlier Friday,Voice of Charity radio had broadcast a live sit-in by relatives of Lebanese prisoners held in Syrian prisons. Two masses were also simultaneously held for the detainees at the demonstration in front of the UN House in Downtown Beirut and at the St. John’s church in Jounieh.
The fact the blast came the night before the return of exiled former army commander, General Michel Aoun, has only further fueled the flames of speculation as to the perpetrators of this latest bombing.
Speaking from Paris by telephone, Aoun told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation the bombing would not scare the people from turning out Saturday to welcome him home during a rally in Beirut.
He said: "These things affect the cowards, not the Lebanese people."
But, Elias Zoghbi, spokesman for the former army commander, said there was a Free Patriotic Movement office near the blast site, and a scheduled meeting had to be delayed due to the bombing.
By the time The Daily Star arrived on the scene shortly after the blast, flames were dramatically shooting up from the first floor of a building above a small retail store whose shutters had been blown out by the force of the explosion.
Fire trucks were rushing to the scene, maneuvering their way through the narrow alleys of the old town on the Bay of Jounieh as police and army units sealed off the area, trying topush back scores of onlookers. Reverend Fadi Tabet,manager of the destroyed radio station, said he did not know if the station had been deliberately targeted.
But he said: "Nothing will scare us."
Station employee Rita Sobeih had left the office only five minutes before the blast, and returned to inspect the damage.
She said: "There is nothing left there,no ceiling,no ground."
Charbel Asmar,who was dining at a nearby restaurant when the bomb went off, said: "The bomb knocked down plates; people panicked and a womanfainted as they rushed out."
Three hours after the explosion, rescuers found and pulled out a seriously wounded Voice of Charity sound engineer, Abdo Abu Jaoudeh, who had been caught beneath three meters of rubble.
Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa also inspected the scene, stopping to speak to the wounded and local religious figure,but refused to speak to reporters.
At UN headquarters in New York, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he had instructed Sabaa to take all necessary steps to deal with the situation, adding he would not tolerate security breaches.
"Security is a red line," Mikati said. President Emile Lahoud condemned the attack and suggested a link between the explosion and political developments expected Saturday, likely referring to the return of Lebanon’s most prominent anti-Syrian politician and Parliament’s expected discussion of a divisive election law.
Meanwhile, opposition legislator Ghassan Moukheiber claimed the joint Lebanese- Syrian security agencies were still functioning despite the removal of most of the country’s pro-Syrian security chiefs and withdrawal of the Syrian Army.
He said: "We accused them before and we accuse them again.They have an interest in sabotage."
Separately, in his Sunday sermon in Bkirki, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, who visited the explosion site Saturday morning,said there was still an "invisible evil hand" who insisted on bringing fear and instability to civilians by implanting "vicious explosives."
He added: "But nothing or no one will stand in the way of the people’s independence." – With agencies

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