At least 23 people were killed and 146 injured Tuesday after twin bombings in front of the Iranian embassy in southern Beirut, the Lebanese health ministry said.
Iran’s cultural attache, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ansari, was killed in the attack, the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon told Hezbollah TV.
The dead also included two Iranian civilians who lived in a building close to the Iranian embassy, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.
Stunned witnesses looked on as a series of massive flames and pillars of black smoke leapt into the the sky. The fires burned out several cars parked on a nearby street.
At least six buildings were damaged, Lebanese Internal Security Forces said.
Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, said he had no doubt the Iranian embassy was the target of the two blasts — but that any effort to thwart Iran’s agendas would be unsuccessful.
“We have no fear when it comes to giving more martyrs in the line of duties,” the ambassador told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV.
Iran is a supporter of Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group based in Lebanon.
The motive behind the attack was not immediately clear. But the blasts took place in an area largely dominated by Hezbollah, which has been sending fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
More than 100,000 people have died in Syria’s ongoing civil war, which pits al-Assad’s Alawite-dominated regime against largely Sunni rebel fighters seeking an end to his family dynasty. Alawites make up an offshoot of Shia Islam, but the majority of Syrians are Sunni.
The Syrian crisis has led to sectarian violence across the border in Lebanon. Sunni-backed rebels have threatened to take the fight into Lebanon, but it was not clear who was behind Tuesday’s blasts.
Call for restraint
Lebanon’s acting prime minister, Najib Mikati, said the blasts were “a cowardly terrorist attack” and urged the Lebanese public “to exercise the utmost restraint because we are going through a very difficult phase,” NNA reported.
Mikati also called the Iranian ambassador to check on his safety and express his condolences, NNA said.
CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh contributed to this report.