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Twin blasts in Beirut kill scores of people

Two attackers activated their bomb vests during rush hour in a densely populated quarter of the Lebanese capital, killing dozens of people, officials said. The area is a known stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah militia.

The explosions happened just minutes apart in front of the Burj al-Barajneh shopping center, police said Thursday. The Sunni "Islamic State" (IS) group claimed responsibility for the blasts.

At least 43 people died the in attack, according to Lebanese Health Ministry.

A third suspect had been killed by one of the explosions before activating his explosive charge, said Lebanon Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.

There were also at least 239 people wounded, the health officials added. Dozens of them are reportedly in critical condition.

Hospitals in southern Beirut called on people to donate blood.

Breaking the calm

The southern suburbs of Beirut are a

bastion of Hezbollah,

a Shiite armed group active in Syria and other conflict areas.

Residents of the area said they rushed to the scene after the first explosion, and then the second one went off.

"We felt it was like an earthquake," Beirut resident Hussein Harakeh told the DPA news agency.

Lebanese troops and Hezbollah security personnel urged people to clear the area out of fear of more attacks.

"After the second explosion, I thought the world was ending," another witness told local media.

Sunni extremists have attacked the area several times in the past, citing retribution for

Hezbollah militants fighting alongside government troops in Syria.

Thursday's bombing is the first such attack in Beirut's southern suburbs since mid-2014.

Lebanese security forces arrested a suspect near the scene of the bombings

Lebanese security forces arrested a suspect near the scene of the bombings

Hezbollah to keep fighting

In an online statement, the IS extremists provided their own version of the Thursday attacks, saying the "soldiers of the Caliphate" detonated an explosive-laden motorbike to draw the Shiite "apostates."

"After the apostates gathered in the area, one of the knights of martyrdom detonated his explosive belt in the midst of them," the statement added.

The Shiite Hezbollah vowed to continue its fight against "terrorists" after the blasts.

"What happened here is a crime...this battle against terrorists will continue and it is a long war between us," Hussein Khalil, an assistant to the group's leader, said at the blast site.

International condemnation

French President Francois Hollande condemned the "despicable" bombings.

"The French share in the national mourning of the Lebanese," he said in a statement.

The White House also slammed the "horrific terrorist" bombings in a statement, saying they affirm the US' commitment to supporting Lebanese institutions.

"Such acts of terror only reinforce our commitment to support the institutions of the Lebanese state, including the security services, to ensure a stable, sovereign and secure Lebanon," said US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.

dj,ls/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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