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Deadly car bomb rocks Beirut

ROUGH CUT - NO REPORTER NARRATION A huge car bomb exploded in a street in central Beirut during rush hour on Friday, killing at least eight people and wounding about 80, witnesses and officials said. It was not immediately clear if the explosion targeted any political figure in Lebanon's divided community but it occurred at a time of heightened tension between Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the Syria conflict. The bomb exploded in the street where the office of the anti-Damascus Christian Phalange Party is located near Sassine Square in Ashafriyeh, a mostly Christian area. Phalange leader Sami al-Gemayel, a staunch opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and member of parliament, condemned the attack. The blast occurred during rush hour, when many parents were picking up children from school, and sent black smoke billowing into the sky. Eight people were killed and at least 78 were wounded, the state news agency said, quoting civil defence officials. Several cars were destroyed by the explosion and the front of a multi-storey building was badly damaged, with tangled wires and metal railings crashing to the ground. In the aftermath, residents ran about in panic looking for relatives while others helped carry the wounded to ambulances. Security forces blanketed the area. Ambulances ferried the wounded to several hospitals, where doctors, nurses and students waited for casualties at the doors. At one hospital, an elderly woman sat in the emergency room with blood staining her blouse. The war in neighbouring Syria, which has killed 30,000 people so far, has pitted mostly Sunni insurgents against President Assad, who is from the Alawite sect linked to Shi'ite Islam. Tension between Sunnis and Shi'ites has been rumbling in Lebanon ever since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war but reignited after the Syria conflict erupted.

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