An explosion has rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut causing an unknown number of casualties.
A HUGE blast rocked central Beirut, sending plumes of black smoke scudding across the skyline of the Lebanese capital.
At least five people were killed and 70 wounded in the explosion, Haaretz reported.
Former finance minister Mohamad Chatah, who was also an adviser to former anti-Syria coalition prime ministers Saad Hariri and Fuad Siniora, was killed along with his driver, security sources told the National News Agency.
The final tweet of Chatah, a Sunni Muslim, was:
#Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security amp; foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 yrs.
mdash; Mohamad B Chatah (@mohamad_chatah) December 27, 2013
Lebanon has seen a wave of bombings over the past months as tensions rise over Syria’s civil war.
Hariri heads the main, Western-backed coalition in Lebanon which is engaged in bitter feuding with the militant Hezbollah group, which is allied to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The blast was heard across the city and sent thick black smoke billowing in the downtown posh commercial district behind the government house and above the seafront of the Lebanese capital.
The army cordoned off the area to prevent people from getting close to the scene, where the twisted wreckage of several cars was still smouldering. The explosion appeared to be the result of the car bomb, but security officials said they had no immediate confirmation.
Footage broadcast on Lebanese TV showed medical workers rushing the wounded to ambulances. At least two bodies could be seen lying on the pavement.
The conflict in Syria has raised tensions in Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities as each side lines up in support of their brethren in the conflict next door.
That has fuelled predictions that Lebanon, still recovering from its 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, is on the brink of descending into full-blown sectarian violence.
Chatah, a prominent economist and former ambassador to the US, was one of the closest aides to former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a truck bombing in Beirut in 2005, not far from today’s explosion.
He later became finance minister when Hariri’s son, Saad, took over the premiership, and stayed on as his senior adviser after he lost the post in early 2011.
He was a member of the Future Generation opposition party and an aide to former prime minister Saad al-Hariri.
Sources at the explosion site said Chatah was on his way to attend a meeting when the explosion occurred.
Footage broadcast by Future TV showed people on fire, others lying on the ground, some bloodied, as well as fires blazing at several other points while ambulances rushed to the stricken area.
Beirut has been hit by several deadly attacks over the past months, including twin suicide bombings in November that targeted the Iranian embassy and bombings in the bastion of the Shiite movement Hezbollah in the south of the capital over the summer.