AFP, TRIPOLI, Lebanon- Five Lebanese soldiers were killed on Monday in a car bombing targeting an army bus on the outskirts of the restive northern city of Tripoli, security and military officials said.
A security official said 24 people, including 18 soldiers, were wounded in the second deadly attack to target the army in two months, further shaking stability in the troubled country amid efforts at national reconciliation.
"Once again a treacherous hand has reached out to strike at the military establishment in a terrorist attack clearly aimed at undermining efforts at peace and stability," said a statement from army command.
The bomb, placed under a parked car in the Bahsas neighbourhood at the southern entrance to the city, was packed with nuts and bolts and police suspect the device was detonated by remote control.
It blew up as the bus, with about 24 soldiers on board headed towards Beirut during morning rush-hour in Tripoli, which has been rocked by a wave of deadly sectarian violence this year.
The owner of the booby-trapped vehicle was detained for questioning, a security official said.
The attack came just two days after a suicide car bombing which left 17 people dead in the capital of neighbouring Syria, Lebanon's former powerbroker.
Syria denounced the Tripoli blast as a "terrorist and criminal act," the state-run SANA news agency reported.
"Syria expresses its solidarity with brotherly Lebanon in the face of parties who are undermining the country's security and stability."
Other countries to condemn the attack included Spain and France, which formerly had a colonial mandate in Lebanon.
Lebanon's parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri said the blast was clearly aimed at efforts to stabilise the country, which veered dangerously close to renewed civil war in May.
"This new terrorist attack against the army shows that Lebanon is still being targeted by parties that don't wish for this country to handle its own affairs and to enjoy security and stability," he said in a statement.
Police and the army cordoned off the area as forensic experts gathered evidence while residents rushed to the scene or to nearby hospitals to look for their loved ones.
Ali Al-Khatib said his 37-year-old cousin Anwar Jasim Al-Khatib, a father of two, was among those killed.
The force of the blast shattered windows and damaged cars nearby. The Renault vehicle under which the bomb was placed was left a burned-out pile of twisted metal.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
A similar explosion in August left 14 people dead, nine of them soldiers, in the deadliest attack in Lebanon in three years.
Parliament speaker Nabih Berri said Monday's blast was aimed at scuttling measures toward reconciliation by rival pro- and anti-Syrian factions. He also denounced the fact that the blast took place as Muslims prepared to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Several officials said they suspect the attack was aimed at undermining the army's bid to secure Tripoli, a mainly Sunni town which has has been rocked by deadly sectarian violence in recent months.
Tensions had eased in the past few weeks after Lebanon's rival factions signed a reconciliation accord aimed at putting the lid on a protracted political crisis that exploded into deadly violence in Beirut in May.
"This attack targets the army's morale and seeks to rattle relations between the military and the residents of Tripoli... following the expanded deployment of troops," Tripoli MP Moustapha Alloush told AFP.
The army last year fought a 15-week battle with the Al-Qaeda inspired Fatah al-Islam militia in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli that left 400 people dead, including 168 soldiers.
The head of Fatah al-Islam, Shaker al-Abssi, earlier this year vowed revenge attacks against the army.
In June and July, 23 people were killed in battles between Sunni Muslim supporters of the government and their Damascus-backed rivals from the Alawite community in Tripoli.