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Bombings in Beirut kill at least 43

The site of a twin suicide attack Thursday in the Burj al-Barajneh suburb of Beirut. It was the city’s worst bombing in years.WAEL HAMZEH/European Pressphoto agency

BEIRUT — Two suicide bombers carried out a coordinated attack Thursday in a crowded residential area of southern Beirut controlled by the Hezbollah militia, and the Lebanese Health Ministry said at least 43 people had been killed and more than 200 wounded.

The Islamic State, which controls parts of neighboring Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had targeted Shi’ite Muslims, whom it views as apostates, and members of Hezbollah, a Shi’ite group that backs the Syrian government.

It was the worst bombing assault in years to traumatize Beirut, which has endured such attacks periodically. The assault shattered a relative calm that prevailed in recent months despite the Syrian civil war raging next door.

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Hezbollah’s Al Manar news service and other Lebanese news media said the bombers struck during the evening rush hour, apparently to maximize casualties. The Lebanese army said in a later statement that the body of a third bomber was found near one of the blast sites but that his explosives belt was still largely intact.

The attack took place in the Bourj al-Barajneh neighborhood of southern Beirut, an area that includes a Palestinian refugee camp and that has absorbed many Syrian refugees in the past four years.

The explosions hit a bustling area with narrow streets, many small shops, and vendors selling fruits and vegetables from stalls and pushcarts. Television stations broadcast images of people carrying the wounded away from flaming rubble. The blasts went off near a bakery, and just yards from a hospital.

The Health Ministry said that by evening the death toll had reached at least 43, with 239 wounded. Al Manar said children were among the victims.

At the scene of the blasts, residents showed reporters what they said were metal pebbles that are usually put inside an explosive belt to inflict maximum casualties.

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‘‘They targeted civilians, worshipers, unarmed people, women and elderly, they only targeted innocent people,’’ Hezbollah official Bilal Farhat told the Associated Press, calling it a ‘‘satanic, terrorist attack.’’

For more than an hour, ambulances struggled to ferry the wounded and the dead from the neighborhood while Lebanese troops and Hezbollah gunmen cordoned off the area, preventing anyone from getting close to the site of the two blasts, less than 50 yards apart.

Hospitals in southern Beirut called on people to donate blood and appealed for residents not to gather at hospital gates so that ambulances and emergency staff could work unhindered.

Hussein Khalil, a political aide to the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, visited the scene and called the attackers “beasts,” according to local news reports. Lebanon’s prime minister, Tammam Salam, also condemned the bombings. The government declared Friday a day of national mourning and announced that schools would be closed.

The US Embassy in Beirut issued a statement saying that the United States condemned the attack and that officials extend “condolences to victims’ families” and “wish speedy recovery to wounded.”

The attack was carried out two days before talks were set to begin in Vienna in a renewed international effort to find a political solution to the Syria conflict, now in its fifth year.

It also came on a day punctuated by new offensives in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State. US-backed Kurdish forces are confronting the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria; at the same time, the Syrian government, Hezbollah and other allied forces have recently made advances against the Islamic State.

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An image-savvy group, the Islamic State has often carried out spectacular attacks at times when it has suffered battlefield losses, seeking to rally supporters and distract from its defeats.

Since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, Beirut and other Lebanese cities have been subjected to bombings and other attacks carried out in the name of rival Syrian factions. Hezbollah, an influential political power in Lebanon that is regarded by Israel and the United States as a terrorist organization, is a major supporter of President Bashar Assad of Syria, as is Iran, an ally of Hezbollah.


Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.