Bomb hits Ashrafiya district of Beirut

A bomb exploded in Beirut residential neighborhood late Friday, killing at least one person and wounding seven, police said, in the latest in a string of blasts in the Lebanese capital.

The blast, which went off just before midnight, came days ahead of an expected visit by a U.N. investigator to Damascus to interview top Syrian officials over the most notorious of Lebanon's bomb attacks in recent months, the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Many Lebanese have expressed worries that bombings could increase as the investigation pushes forward. The U.N. team has already accused four senior Lebanese security officials who carried out Syrian policy in the country. Friday's bomb went off in Beirut's Christian neighborhood of Ashrafiya, said Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, commander of the Internal Security Forces. One person was killed and seven were rushed to nearby hospitals, he said.

The bomb was put in a bag and placed between two cars, Rifi said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. He added that it was with a timer but gave no further details. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. correspondent at the scene said the explosion went off near a coffee shop killing its owner and wounding several people who were at his place.

Footage from the scene showed two vehicles ablaze, and balconies up to six stories up on a nearby building were heavily damaged. Security forces cordoned the area and prevented people from get close to the scene. Beirut has been shaken by a series of bombings the past year - some killing or wounding prominent politicians and others hitting public areas. Many in Lebanon accuse Syria in the killings of Hariri and other anti-Damascus figures, a charge Syria denies.

Previous to the Hariri blast, an Oct. 1 car bombing wounded one of his allies, former Economy Minister Marwan Hamadeh. Two car bombings in June killed two prominent anti-Syrian figures. A bomb in July wounded Elias Murr, defense minister in the outgoing pro-Syrian cabinet. He returned to office as deputy prime minister and defense minister in the new government, which is dominated by anti-Syrian politicians.

In addition, there have been a string of bombs set off in public places, including shopping centers and tourist streets, many of them in mainly Christian districts. In the most recent explosion before Friday's, an Aug. 22 bomb wounded five people. No one has been arrested in the blasts, which police have said used simila techniques.

The head of the U.N. investigation, Detlev Mehlis, visited Damascus on Monday at Syria's invitation and reached an agreement for interviewing Syrian officials about the Hariri assassination. He was expected to visit again next week. Syria controlled Lebanon for years and had troops in the country for 29 years, until April, when it was forced to withdraw them, in part because of huge protests over Hariri's slaying. Since the withdrawal, Syira's political has crumbled, with many of its allies removed from positions of power.

Lebanese authorities arrested four former Syrian allies after they were accused in Hariri's death by the U.N. investigation. They are former General Security chief Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed; Maj. Gen. Ali Hajj, the ex-Internal Security Forces director general; Brig. Gen. Raymond Azar, the former military intelligence chief; and current Presidential Guards commander Brig. Gen. Mustafa Hamdan, AP reports.

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