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Four dead in Beirut bomb blast

Four people have been killed in an apparent suicide car bombing in a south Beirut neighbourhood considered a stronghold of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.

BEIRUT: Four people were killed in an apparent suicide car bombing in south Beirut on Tuesday, in the latest string of attacks targeting strongholds of Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah.

The blast was quickly claimed by Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon, a group believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda's Syrian arm, which said it was a suicide attack.

"Four people are dead, and there are 35 injured," Red Cross spokesman Ayad al-Monzer said.

The official National News Agency said the attack appeared to be a suicide bombing.

"Body parts apparently belonging to a suicide bomber were at the scene," it said.

Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon posted a statement on its Twitter account, saying it was behind the attack.

"With the help of God almighty we have responded to the massacres carried out by the party of Iran (Hezbollah)... with a martyrdom operation in their backyard in the southern (Beirut) suburbs," it said.

The blast took place on the busy Al-Arid Street in the Haret Hreik neighbourhood, which had been targeted by a suicide car bombing in early January.

A photographer saw troops and Hezbollah security men deployed as firemen worked to put out the flames and health workers took the injured to hospitals.

The blast is the sixth in a string targeting areas considered strongholds of Hezbollah since the group announced it was sending fighters to support President Bashar al-Assad's troops in neighbouring Syria.

It is the third to hit the group's strongholds in a month.

Less than a week ago, a car bomb exploded in Hermel in the eastern Bekaa valley, killing three people. That attack was also claimed by Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon.

And on January 2, a suicide car bombing claimed by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) hit the street targeted on Tuesday, killing five people.

While the attacks appear to be targeting the powerful Hezbollah, those killed have all been civilians.

Lebanon violence spiralling

Lebanon has suffered a spike in violence since the war in Syria broke out, with the frequency of attacks rising in recent weeks.

Tensions have also led to frequent battles in the northern city of Tripoli between Sunni and Alawite residents.

Assad, an Alawite, is battling a Sunni-dominated uprising.

On Tuesday, one person died of wounds suffered in the latest clashes in Tripoli, and four Lebanese soldiers were injured, a security source said.

A day earlier, six people were killed in clashes between the Sunni Bab al-Tebbaneh and Alawite Jabal Mohsen districts.

Targeted attacks have also struck opponents of Hezbollah and Damascus.

On Friday, a day after the Hermel car bomb attack, eight people were killed in cross-border shelling of the Sunni frontier town of Arsal.

And on December 27, moderate Sunni politician Mohammed Chatah, known for his opposition to Syria's regime, was assassinated in a massive car bombing in central Beirut that also killed seven others.

The March 14 alliance to which Chatah belonged blamed his killing on Hezbollah and Assad's regime.

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Centre think tank, said the security situation in Lebanon was trending badly.

"What should worry people is this frequency, the short time period between each bombing," he said.

"We're going to continue to this kind of event for quite some time, unfortunately," he warned.

Lebanon was dominated by Syria for nearly 30 years until its troops withdrew under pressure in 2005, and it continues to be deeply affected by events in its larger neighbour.

The Syria conflict has contributed to a nine-month political impasse over forming a Lebanese government, with the anti-Damascus March 14 movement and Hezbollah unable to reach a deal.

On Tuesday, key March 14 figure and leader of the Future bloc Saad Hariri said he was rescinding his bloc's previous refusal to join a government with Hezbollah.

"I have made this decision (to accept forming a government with Hezbollah) for the sake of Lebanon's interests, rather than my own," Hariri said.

The overture has raised hopes that a new government could be in the works, which Shaikh said "may provide some antidote" to the violence inside Lebanon.

"It would, I hope, illustrate that the main parties are not interested in this kind of thing... and that the finger points more to the Syrian side, whether it's the Syrian regime or Sunni extremists fighting against it," he said.

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