TRIPOLI : Mourners buried dozens of people killed in bombings outside two Sunni mosques in the port city of Tripoli as Lebanon observed a day of mourning on Saturday under tight security.
Soldiers on foot and in armoured vehicles patrolled the tense northern city, which has been driven by strife over Syria’s conflict, and the normally busy streets were deserted. Armed men in civilian clothing stood guard outside the headquarters of political parties and at the houses of MPs and religious officials.
Friday’s attack which cost more than 40 lives — the deadliest in Lebanon since its 1975-1990 civil war — drew strong condemnation from the international community. Coming a week after a deadly blast that hit the Beirut bastion of Shiite movement Hezbollah, the latest bombings risk further stoking tensions between supporters and foes of the Syrian govt.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a native of Tripoli, called for an end to the bloodshed and urged rival Lebanese politicians to unite and maintain neutrality on the Syria war.
“We must end this political polarisation... We must return to the policy of dissociating (from the Syria conflict),” he said in his hometown after talks with several city officials.
“Enough of victims and enough of bloodshed,” Mikati pleaded.
Outside his Tripoli home, the streets were deserted as funerals were held for several victims including three siblings aged seven, five and four.
Gunmen fired into the air to vent their anger while some mourners called for revenge.
The blasts hit during weekly Muslim prayers, in a city where Sunni supporters of Syria’s rebels engage in often deadly clashes with members of the Alawite offshoot of Islam who back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The first bomb struck in the city centre at the Al-Salam mosque as worshippers were still inside.
CCTV footage showed people sitting on the floor when the explosion hit, and scattering in panic.
The second explosion struck minutes later outside Al-Taqwa mosque, about two kilometres (a little more than a mile) away, near the port.
A security source put the toll at 45 dead, while the Lebanese Red Cross said at least 500 people were wounded, of whom 280 were still in hospital.
Said Ebbous was praying at Al-Taqwa and his three children were in the mosque’s courtyard when the bomb struck. He and his wife buried them on Saturday.
“They told me my children were are in paradise,” he said bursting into tears.
No one claimed responsibility for the bombings which have been blamed by some on Syria and by others on Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Assad’s troops for weeks.
Mikati said he believed the Tripoli bombings were carried out by those who bombed Hezbollah’s Rweiss stronghold in Beirut, but he provided no further details.
The blast that ripped through Rweiss, killing 22 people and wounding 300 on August 15, was claimed by a previously unknown group with apparent Sunni affiliations.
Hezbollah supporters meanwhile gathered in the southern suburbs of Beirut in a show of solidarity with Tripoli, organiser said.
Al-Qaeda’s North African branch on Saturday accused Hezbollah of planting the car bombs outside Tripoli’s Sunni mosques and vowed revenge in a statement on Twitter.
The top Salafist cleric in Lebanon, Daii Islam al-Chahal, pinned the blame on Syria “and its allies in Lebanon”.
Hezbollah has linked the Tripoli attacks to the one that struck its stronghold as part of a plan to “plunge Lebanon into chaos and destruction.”
Hezbollah opponent Saad Hariri, a former prime minister, said the attackers wanted to sow “dissension” and “mow down the lives of innocents across Lebanon.”
His father and former billionaire prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, was assassinated in a 2005 car bombing in Beirut that killed another 22 people which was, until Friday, the worst attack since the civil war.
Syria and ally Iran condemned the bombings as did their US arch-enemy, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged restraint and unity in Lebanon.
Lebanon has been on edge since the attack in Hezbollah’s stronghold, and officials said three suspected bomb makers had been arrested in Beirut.
Troops are fighting a “total war” against terrorism whose aim is to provoke “sectarian strife”, army chief General Jean Aqim said this week.