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Zalka 24 August 2005  

Security forces investigate latest blast    by: Daily Star.

Investigator in Zalka explosion says 'we are currently interrogating witnesses and have no suspects so far'
BEIRUT: Security agencies scrambled to keep the situation under control Tuesday as yet another bomb rocked the Christian neighborhood of Zalka, north of the capital Monday night.

The Internal Security Forces, Civil Defense and army were all dispatched immediately to Zalka's Moussa Commercial Center and neighboring Promenade Hotel, just one month after a bomb was set in the Beirut nightclub promenade of Monnot in Achrafieh.

Eight people were wounded in the latest explosion, which came only a few hours after security forces discovered one ton of powerful explosives concealed in an abandoned textile factory near the North Lebanon town of Zghorta.

The wounded were rushed to Haroun Hospital and were listed as: Joseph Abdo, 20; Mark Kamel, 18; Joelle Baroud, 11; Rania Baroud, 36; Rita Nohra, 30; Karmen Makedichian, 54; Azar Makedichian, 55; and Aroyo Kevork, 18.

Sources from Haroun Hospital said none of those admitted had suffered serious wounds and identified all eight victims as being Lebanese citizens.

"Everything that could have been done was done, with all the security agencies responding promptly and more efficiently as a result of last week's training," said Lieutenant Colonel Elie Baradie of the ISF in a telephone interview with The Daily Star.

Baradie was referring to a practice drill last week, wherein army troops and police were taught how to operate jointly in the event of car bombings and other security breaches.

"We have now handed over the case file along with all the evidence and information compiled from Monday's bombing to the judicial investigators," he added.

Zalka is the latest Christian neighborhood to be targeted by a series of bombings in Lebanon since the February assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Jean Fahd, the military court magistrate heading the investigation into Monday's attack, said yesterday there had been no arrests made. Early reports said security forces were seen detaining five men shortly after the explosion.

"We are currently interrogating witnesses that are helping in the investigation and have no suspects so far," he said.

The magistrate added that the latest bomb, while similar to previous ones in size (some 20 to 30 kilograms of explosives) was more dangerous than its predecessors as it was contained in "a small bag that was placed in a dark tight corner easily missed by security," in contrast to the previous bombs placed underneath parked cars.

No arrests have been made in connection with any of the 10 attacks this year.

According to Fahd, "The aim of all these explosions appears to be to sow fear and terror in the hearts of citizens and cause as much material damage as possible to destabilize security and harm the tourist season."

Meanwhile, Zalka Mayor Michel Murr released an official statement yesterday to announce that everything was now "back to normal."

"Everything can now be cleaned up near the bomb site from shattered glass to other debris, leaving the actual bomb site off limits for 48 hours, open only to the local investigations," he said.

The explosion will not affect Zalka, he added. "The marketplace will return as busy and bustling with life as ever."

Murr said that all shops within "a 500-meter radius" from the blast were damaged, adding that the municipality, with help from sanitation workers and Civil Defense members, had "helped citizens clean the damage from the explosion from their houses and shops."

According to the mayor, the goal of such explosions is to "intimidate citizens and tourists. But this criminal act will not hinder us from working hard to go on with our lives."

Abi Samra, an employee of one of Zalka's shops damaged in the blast, said people had expected an explosion would happen in the area as it is a busy commercial district.

Fadi, a senior citizen residing not far from the blast site, said he was watching television Monday night when a loud bang shook him.

"Thank God the windows were open or else the glass would have shattered," he said. "I can barely afford to pay for my food. I can't pay for any damages caused by a blast."

Free Patriotic Movement activists held a rally in the evening in front of the Moussa Center in protest of the unrelenting attacks on the country's security and economy.

The country's security agencies held a meeting earlier at the Military Tribunal, after which an official statement was released praising security personnel.

"It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving."

Mother Teresa

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