Two near-simultaneous explosions rocked Lebanon's southern port city of Tyre early Wednesday - raising fears the country may see renewed sectarian violence.
While no casualties were reported, the bombings have raised the specter of sectarian-fueled Islamist violence on the backdrop of an 'Arab Spring' that has - to date - left Lebanon untouched.
According to The Daily Star, the first explosion at 4:55 a.m. ripped through a restaurant at Queen Elissa Hotel. Several cars were damaged, including one belonging to a UN officer who works for the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
A similar explosion ripped apart a liquor store near the port of Tyre five minutes later, inflicting significant damage.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel insisted the incidents centered on the fact that the establishments served alcohol and did not target the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
“What happened today in Tyre is not security-related but linked to the sale of alcohol,” Charbel told Voice of Lebanon radio.
Lebanese security forces cordoned off the area around Queen Elissa Hotel, preventing reporters and photographers from getting close to the site.
The bomb destroyed the ground floor restaurant at the three-story hotel and shattered windows.
Sources said that in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, UNIFIL had issued a brief warning to all personnel to remain indoors. However, the notice was recinded a few hours later.
Lebanon’s tourism minister, Fadi Abboud, said the explosions were linked to the “spread of fundamentalism in the Middle East.”
“What happened in the south I categorize as part of what is happening in the Middle East, specifically the spread of fundamentalism in the Middle East,” Abboud told Lebanon News.
Abboud said the explosions “carried many messages, the most important centering on the future of co-existence among the religious [sects] in the country.”
Lebanon descended into chaos during a viscious sectarian civil war that raged from 1975-1990. In the two decades since, the country has seen reconstruction efforts impeded due to conflict with Israel resulting from continued aggression by the Hizbullah terror organization.
The Shiite Islamist Hizbullah terror organization - which currently dominates the cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati - has also been accused by opposition leaders of using terror and political assassination to undermine the will of the Lebanese people.
Earlier this year four Hizbullah terrorists were indicted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for the 2005 assassination of late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.