BEIRUT — A beribboned chocolate box carried by a woman blew up near the main elevators of the American University Hospital at the peak of visiting hours Saturday afternoon, killing the woman and six other people and wounding 31, police said.
The woman, in her late 30s, sat down on a bench in the ground-floor lobby with the box in her lap after going through a routine security check, a police officer said.
"She appeared sedated and edgy," a witness said.
Within moments, the blast devastated the waiting area, leaving the green-and-yellow marble walls splattered with blood and the once-spotless floor a bloody scene of charred bodies and moaning victims.
2 Pounds of TNT
Explosives experts said the blast was caused by nearly two pounds of TNT linked to a detonating device.
Hospital authorities said a guard at the hospital's heavily protected entrance "looked into the . . . box, slightly lifted the cover but saw only chocolates on the surface and he let the woman in," according to wire service reports.
The explosion inside the Syrian-guarded hospital was the second explosion in the past week in a major public building. No one has taken responsibility for either blast.
Last Wednesday, explosives in a suitcase carried by a woman ripped through the entrance of Beirut International Airport, also guarded by Syrian troops sent to the western half of the Lebanese capital in February to maintain security. The airport bomb killed six persons, including the woman carrying it, and wounded 73 people.
The bombings in West Beirut are interpreted here as blows to Syrian authority.
A security official said: "The blasts are aimed at killing as many people as possible in places under Syrian control in order to challenge their role. We do not rule out the possibility that drugged women are being used to carry out these missions."
Syrian troops manning barricades blocked access to the hospital as hysterical people came to inquire about patients and employees trapped inside.
His eyes red and brimming with tears, Khalil Raishouni said: "I came to see my nephew. We lost him. He was an only son, Nazih Kamouriyeh." Kamouriyeh, 21, a mechanic and an award-winning body builder, was the only provider for his two sisters and ailing mother. His father was killed five years ago by a stray bullet during a Beirut street fight.
Authorities said that four of Saturday's dead were men and that the three other bodies were so mutilated they could not be identified.
Dr. Ziad Haidar, an internist on duty at the hospital's emergency room, said: "The wounded with small lacerations were the first to arrive because they could get up and walk. But they were rapidly pushed aside to deal with the more serious and traumatic cases."
Reflecting on his own reaction to the blast, Haidar observed: "When you first hear the sound, the screams, and you smell the blood, you are always shocked. But when you rationalize, you can almost expect such things to happen. It is in the logic of the Lebanese war that such acts will always occur to keep the Lebanese divided."