JOUNIEH, Lebanon -- An explosion ravaged a shopping area and set off a fire near a Christian radio station in the port city of Jounieh north of Beirut late yesterday, reportedly killing at least one person on the eve of the return from exile of Lebanon's most prominent anti-Syrian politician.
President Emile Lahoud condemned the attack and indicated a link between the explosion and political developments expected today, alluding to Parliament's possible discussion of a divisive election law and the return of Michel Aoun, the anti-Syrian politician, a Christian, from 14 years of exile in France.
The explosion broke a lull of several weeks after a spate of bombings of commercial areas in Christian areas and opposition strongholds. Bombings in March and early April killed three people and injured 24.
Witnesses in Jounieh, in the Christian heartland 10 miles north of Beirut, said the explosion occurred near the main square of the picturesque town. It took place near the office of Sawt al-Mahabba, a Christian religious radio station, and a Maronite Catholic church at the entrance to the old souk, or market.
Earlier in the day, the radio station had aired live broadcasts of a sit-in by relatives of Lebanese prisoners held in Syrian jails.
Police officials estimated the bomb at 44 pounds of explosives but could not immediately tell whether it was placed in, under, or next to a car on the street.
The explosion, heard as far away as the hills overlooking the Mediterranean coast at about 9 p.m., shattered windows of apartments and cars in the old town, a mix of old stone buildings housing shops and residential apartments.
Flames shot up from the first floor of a building above the Cheaper Shop, a one-dollar store whose shutters were blown out by the force of the explosion. Fire engines rushed to the scene, maneuvering their way through the narrow alleys of the old town on the Bay of Jounieh.
Abdo Abou Jaoude, sound technician at the station, was trapped for three hours before rescuers were able to free him from under the stones and concrete blocks.
Father Fadi Thabet, the station's manager, said he was not sure whether the station was deliberately targeted. ''Nothing will scare us," he said.
The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. reported that one Sri Lankan laborer died in the blast.
Police said 11 wounded people, three with serious injuries were taken to the hospital, and another 12 suffered minor injuries from cuts of flying glass.
They could not confirm a fatality.
Opposition legislator Ghassan Moukheiber alleged that the joint Lebanese-Syrian security agencies were still in operation despite the removal of some of their pro-Syrian chiefs in recent days and the withdrawal of the Syrian army.
''We accused them before and we accuse them again. They have an interest in sabotage," he said.