BEIRUT -- A car bomb hit the motorcade of Lebanon's outgoing pro-Syrian defense minister yesterday, wounding him and killing one person in an attack that deepened fears of increasing violence.
The assassination attempt against Elias Murr was the latest in a string of bombings that have killed or wounded politicians and other prominent figures in Lebanon. But while the others targeted opponents of Syria, prompting accusations that Damascus was behind the killings, the explosion yesterday was the first to hit one of Syria's strongest allies.
That heightened concerns that more hands are at play in the violence amid Lebanon's political instability. With Syria's domination crumbling after the withdrawal of its troops in the spring, its opponents in Lebanon are moving to take power while its allies struggle to retain influence.
The anti-Syrian camp has been trying to form a government after winning a majority in parliament, but haggling over the posts has held up the process.
Murr, appearing on television from his hospital bed, urged Lebanese to close ranks and confront what he called ''a conspiracy" to destabilize the country.
Lebanon's president, Emile Lahoud, who is staunchly pro-Syrian, has reportedly been pressing for Murr -- his son-in-law and a deputy prime minister and a defense minister in the outgoing government -- to be given a post in the Cabinet.
''Their only goal is to strike at the symbols of moderation and patriotism with the aim of undermining stability," Lahoud said in a statement issued after visiting Murr. The bombing, Lahoud added, was part of ''a terrible scheme" against Lebanon.
Murr, 43, was driving his own car in his motorcade through the northern Naqash District, a neighborhood of embassies and diplomatic residences, when a vehicle packed with up to 132 pounds of explosives detonated next to it.
The blast, heard across Beirut, created a crater in the pavement, destroyed one vehicle in the motorcade, and damaged several others. The attack vehicle was blown over a stone wall and into a villa.
Murr staggered out of his damaged vehicle, bloodied and leaning on passersby who had rushed to help, witnesses said. Twelve other people were wounded, including the Mexican ambassador's wife who was in a nearby residence, and a charred body was removed from one of the cars.
''When the explosion occurred, I saw nothing. I saw only fire in the car," Murr told Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. from his hospital bed. ''The officer sitting next to me was unconscious. I looked at my bodyguard who was also unconscious."
Murr said he tried pulling the men from the car but the doors were locked. He managed to climb out a broken window before ambulances arrived to take him and the others to hospital.
He criticized anti-Syrian groups that have accused Damascus of killing former prime minister Rafik Hariri and two antiSyrian figures.
''When a group accuses another group, this encourages the bombers to continue their bombings," he said.
Saad Hariri, the son of the assassinated former prime minister, is the leader of the anti-Syrian coalition that won a majority in parliament in elections last month. Saad warned of a ''secret hand" sowing instability in Lebanon.
''This is part of the series [of assassinations] directed against all of Lebanon," Hariri said outside the hospital where Murr was being treated. ''We must fight them."
The assassination of Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14 triggered anti-Syrian protests at home and international pressure that eventually ended three decades of Syrian domination of Lebanon.
Walid Jumblatt, an anti-Syrian Druse leader, said Murr fell out of favor with the Syrians.
He suggested the attempt to kill Murr was part of a plan to eliminate anyone who may have inside knowledge about Hariri's assassination.