At least five people, including a former government minister, have been reported killed by a huge blast in the Lebanese capital Beirut. The explosion is thought to have been caused by a car bomb.
A strong blast shook the city of Beirut on Friday morning (27.12.2013), sending black smoke billowing from the center of the city.
The explosion occured a few hundred meters (yards) from the government headquarters and parliament building. A column of black smoke was seen rising in the downtown business district near the Phoenicia Hotel.
The state National News Agency reported one of the victims was Mohammad Chatah, an ex-minister of finance and Lebanon's envoy to Washington. Chatah also served as adviser to former prime minister Fuad Siniora and his successor and ex-premier Saad Hariri.
News agency AFP reported that he was killed as he headed to Saad Hariri's mansion in the city centre to attend a meeting of a coalition that backs the Syrian opposition.
Local television stations carried pictures of thick smoke billowing from an area near where Lebanon's prime minister has his offices, and a major commercial district home to shops, banks, restaurants.
Troops were reportedly seen being deployed nearby, with ambulance and emercency personnel also rushing to the area where the blast occured.
Lebanon has seen a wave of bombings in the past months as tensions in the region rise.
bk/jlw (dpa, AFP, Reuters)