A top security official linked to the anti-Damascus camp in Lebanon was among those killed in a powerful car bomb in Beirut on Friday, officials told AFP.
The rush-hour bombing in the predominantly Christian district of Ashrafieh killed at least two other people and wounded 96, Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil told reporters at the scene.
A government official said the intelligence chief of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces, General Wissam al-Hassan, was among the dead in one of the highest-profile killings since the 2005 murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri.
Hassan was close to Rafiq's son, Saad, who is leader of the opposition and hostile to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, AFP noted. He had been tipped to take over as ISF head at the end of this year.
Opposition politician Samir Geagea said Hassan "moved around with exceptional security measures" and had sent his wife and children to Paris because he "knew he was a target."
The ISF played a central role in the arrest in August of former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha, who has close links to Damascus and was charged with planning attacks in Lebanon and transporting explosives.
The agency was also deeply involved in seeking the arrest of those responsible for a host of attacks and assassinations between 2005 and 2008, starting with the Hariri assassination.
Friday's blast occurred only 200 meters from the headquarters of the Christian party, the Phalange, which is also anti-Damascus.
No one claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Phalange MP Nadim Gemayel quickly accused Syria of orchestrating it.
"The Syrian regime is no stranger to such explosions. This is a political blast par excellence," Gemayel told LBC television. "This regime, which is crumbling, is trying to export its conflict to Lebanon."
Geagea, head of the right-wing Lebanese Forces, also pointed the finger at Damascus, saying Hassan was targeted "because he arrested Samaha."
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi, meanwhile, condemned what he called a "terrorist, cowardly" attack, saying such incidents "are unjustifiable wherever they occur."
State prosecutor Hatem Madi said the car "was blown off dozens of meters” from where it was parked on a street off Sassine Square. Bomb experts told AFP the car was packed with 66 pounds of explosives.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)