Two blasts, spaced only minutes apart, ripped through two buses on a busy commuter thoroughfare near a mountain town northeast of Beirut on Tuesday morning.
Government sources revealed that the majority of casualties were aboard public buses ferrying people to work in Beirut from Ain Alaq village near Bikfaya, hometown of former President Amin Gemayel whose son was assassinated by gunmen in November.
The blasts wrecked the buses and surrounding vehicles on a mountain road about 24 kilometers northeast of Beirut.
When the first bomb detonated, the driver of the second bus stopped and got out, shortly before his own bus blew up, security sources said.
Some police officials were quoted as saying that the death count has dropped to three from the original reports of 12 people. The Red Cross members in the country also confirmed it had so far accounted for three bodies. It was not known why that area was targeted and no group claimed responsibility.
Tensions are high in Lebanon since clashes erupted in January between supporters and critics of the pro-Western government, which caused nine deaths.
Pro-government groups were set to hold a mass rally in Beirut's Martyrs Square today to mark Hariri's killing, although renewed fears of friction have emerged with opposition supporters camped nearby since December 1 in a campaign to topple the anti-Syrian government.
Hariri's son, Saad, the leader of the majority anti-Syrian coalition, announced the memorial would proceed as planned. He added that the bombings proved that the UN-backed tribunal should try suspects in his father's killing and other attacks, he said.
"This is new evidence that the international court is a Lebanese need ... to protect normal Lebanese," he told LBC television.
The opposition, rallied by Hezbollah, is holding back from endorsing the tribunal, afraid it could be wielded as a political tool. Various opposition leaders condemned Tuesday's attack, calling for a swift end to the political crisis.
Lebanon has witnessed 15 attacks on politicians, journalists and public places since Hariri's slaying on February 14, 2005.
Many Lebanese believe Syria is to blame, a claim Damascus firmly denies, with pro-government loyalists saying the opposition wants to block the tribunal to protect Damascus.
The attacks are the first since the assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, and there had been signs a deal end the political crisis might be imminent.
"Every time the possibility of practical solutions looms on the horizon between the Lebanese factions to strengthen their unity, the enemies of Lebanon rush to commit a new crime against innocents," President Emile Lahoud said.
Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, a politician who escaped an assassination bid in 2004, echoed Lahoud, saying that the attack should not hamper efforts to end the crisis.
"On the contrary, it should boost attempts and induce everyone to go into dialogue in a more determined manner," he said.
EU president Germany, France, Britain and Egypt have all strongly condemned the attacks.
"On the eve of the second anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the presidency of the European Union calls upon all sides in Lebanon to take a determined stand against violence and to do everything they can to prevent the situation from escalating," the German foreign ministry said in a statement.
(China Daily via agencies February 14, 2007)