A car bombing killed a senior general in Lebanon's military and at least two others Wednesday in Beirut, the military said, thrusting the country into further political instability as rival parties attempt to select a president.
Brig.-Gen. Francois Hajj, head of military operations in the army command, was killed along with his bodyguard when a parked car — packed with TNT and apparently triggered by remote control — exploded as his vehicle passed by, the military said in a statement.
The explosion occurred at 7:10 a.m. local time (12:10 a.m. ET) in the city's predominantly Christian suburb of Baabda as school buses and people were setting off for work in the capital.
The blast wrecked cars and caused heavy damage in the street, which also houses foreign embassies.
"All around the area, windows are shattered," the CBC's Nahlah Ayed reported from Beirut after visiting the scene of the explosion. "There is also twisted metal everywhere."
Two bodies were thrown about 15 metres by the force of the explosion. Troops sealed off the area as firefighters tried to put out the flames in at least two cars.
The road was blackened with soot as smoke covered the area.
General tapped to become army commander
The explosion comes a day after another scheduled vote inparliament to selectapresident was delayed as rival political factions squabbled over the mechanism of power-sharing.
Hajj'sname had emerged as a strong candidate to succeed Michel Suleiman as army commander, a post that traditionally goes to a Maronite Christian, if Suleimanis elected president in a vote schedulednext Monday.
Hajj was the ninth fatality in a string of assassinations that began witha bomb attack that killed former prime ministerRafik al-Hariri in 2005, but Wednesday'sblast was the firstof its kind against the Lebanese army.
The last major explosion on Sept. 19 killed anti-SyrianMP Antoine Ghanem on a Beirut street.
The armyis seen as the one force that can hold the country together amid increasingly acrimonious relations between theWestern-backed government and pro-Syrian opposition groups.
Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh accused the "Syrian-Iranian axis" of attacking the military, "the only body in Lebanon who can balance the power of Hezbollah and other militias in the country."
However, Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria, and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem bothdenounced the attack.
Lebanon is embroiled in its worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The country has been without a president since Nov. 23 when Emile Lahoud left office and a deadlocked parliament failed to elect a successor.
Militant group crushed
Lebanon'smilitary has managed to keep the peace amid the serious political crisis. Italso crushed amilitant groupin three months of summer fighting in a northern Lebanon Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared that left hundreds dead.
Hajj headed the grounded operations at the camp, which ended in September with the army defeating the Fatah al-Islam group.