BEIRUT — A car packed with explosives, gasoline and oxygen bottles blew up in a huge ball of flame and shrapnel today on a busy street in Christian East Beirut, killing at least 22 people and wounding 102.
It went off 30 yards from an office of President Amin Gemayel's political party, but authorities would not say whether that was the target. The only damage at the Falange Party office was shattered windows.
A dozen passing motorists were killed in their cars by the fireball that engulfed the street. Witnesses said scores of pedestrians and shoppers were cut down by shrapnel or turned into human torches by blazing gasoline that sprayed over a 50-yard radius.
Blood-spattered Red Cross squads clawed through the smoldering wreckage of eight buildings, under a dark cloud of smoke and ashes that hung over the scene. Officials said they feared the death toll would climb.
400 Killed in Week
The bombing follows a week of fighting between Gemayel loyalists and Syrian-backed Christian and Muslim rivals in which more than 400 people have been killed and 800 wounded.
Those battles, including a daylong showdown last Wednesday in which Gemayel crushed his main Christian opponent, scuttled a Syrian-sponsored peace agreement signed Dec. 28 in Damascus by leaders of the largest Muslim and Christian militias.
The Maronite Catholic president opposes the agreement, which would give Muslims more power at the expense of the traditionally dominant Christians.
No group claimed responsibility for today's bombing in the Furn el Shubbak district. Police said the car was detonated by remote control.
Unconfirmed reports said the bomber parked the car, a Mercedes, on the sidewalk, pretended that he had engine trouble, then walked away and detonated the bomb.
Car Bombs Killed 313 in '85
It was the first car bombing in Lebanon this year. Last year car bombs killed 313 people in Lebanon.
The explosion, of which no warning was given, blew a hole nine feet deep in the street. It ripped the fronts off buildings and set several afire.
Charred bodies lay in the smoldering hulks of burning autos. Firemen fought half a dozen blazes, and Christian militiamen fired into the air to clear paths for ambulances.
Yussef Bitar, the top police explosives expert, said the car was packed with 550 pounds of explosives, extra tanks of gasoline and oxygen bottles to turn it into a huge fire-and-shrapnel bomb.
Syrian Units Deploying
Syrian-backed militias continued their pressure on Gemayel's forces today in the Christian heartland north and east of Beirut. Syrian army units were reported deploying in the mountains east of the capital.
Military sources said 1,100 Syrian paratroopers moved into several villages overlooking Gemayel's hometown of Bikfaya, 10 miles northeast of Beirut, in the previous 48 hours.