BEIRUT — Gun battles raged in Beirut early Monday morning, killing at least seven people and wounding dozens, in violence in which a car belonging to a Saudi prince was hit by a bomb attack, authorities said.
The rapid escalation of violence in one of the most tightly controlled cities in the Middle East mirrored similar violence in other countries across the region and illustrates the fragility of stability in the region.
In Beirut, powerful Saudi Prince Mansour bin Muqrin — who was fired from the Saudi royal court in 2012 — was driving a black Toyota 4Runner near the Beirut’s Souk Souk suburb when he was hit by two bombs that exploded about 2 a.m., the Lebanese Interior Ministry said. A Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman said Prince Mansour was unhurt.
The car caught fire, killing five people in the street, officials said. Dozens of others who had been running away from the initial explosion later died in a stampede to exit the shopping district, with emergency services unable to deal with the pace of the rush. Seven people died and about 100 were wounded, the Interior Ministry said.
Prince Mansour was visiting Beirut for the last two days of his tour, officials said. He was supposed to stay until Tuesday.
“This assassination of Mansour bin Muqrin … undermines the unity of the region,” said Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, according to state news channel Al-Riyadh Arabic. “One cannot trust anything” in Lebanon, he said.
The Saudi embassy issued a statement saying that Prince Mansour had left the country on Sunday night “to visit his family in Lebanon and will not be returning.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which underscored the violence and lawlessness that continues to plague Lebanon.
Though once a close ally of its Shiite-inspired neighbor Iran, Lebanon has been gripped by political and sectarian power struggles between Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia, and Saudi Arabia, with Hezbollah allies holding sway in the Lebanese parliament. The city, which has a small number of Hezbollah, has often been described as a “hotbed of Lebanese politics.”