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Eyewitness describes blast horror

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Blast kills former PM Rafik Hariri. CNN's Brent Sadler reports. (February 14)
Can Rafik Hariri's vision of a prosperous Lebanon be achieved after his death?

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has been killed in a huge blast in Beirut, with several others killed and injured.

Robert Fisk, correspondent for the London-based Independent newspaper, lives near the scene of the attack. He told CNN's Andrew Stevens what he saw.

Robert Fisk: It's a scene of great carnage. I saw several bodies on fire inside cars. I climbed inside the crater that was at least 15 feet deep so this was a huge blast. At least 22 cars were on fire: one of them was blown three floors up into the annexe of an unopened hotel. Another seem to have been blown over the wall of the St. George hotel that was still under repairs from the civil war that ended in 1990.

Across the street water was gushing from broken lines, and when the fire brigade arrived they had to drag their hoses past the corpses to put out the huge fires. When we got there the fuel tanks of the cars were still exploding and spraying fire across the road so it was difficult to see how many had died and who they were. I didn't see anyone resembling Rafik Hariri, who I know, or if it's true he's dead I knew, very well. Certainly there were a lot of body parts but there were at least five bodies I could identify as human beings who were either on fire and were blown across the road. And if I saw five I assume there must be more. That's what I saw at the scene and it was about 15 minutes before the army arrived and began to clear people away.

Andrew Stevens: What area did the blast cover?

Fisk: It was on the seafront, so it would only have affected one set of buildings to the east of it. But it broke my windows so it must have covered three-quarters of a mile. People were out dining in restaurants and many were covered in blood after being hit by glass. Other people are just in shock. I did see one man who I used to know as a bodyguard to Hariri, who was in tears. That was the first time I thought, "oh know, I hope Hariri isn't in this." But I didn't see anyone recognizable as Hariri either among the dead that I saw or the wounded.

Stevens: CNN has confirmed that Hariri did die in the blast. Why would he likely have been a target?

Fisk: He was a symbol of an awful lot of things in Lebanon: the idea of the whole rebirth of Beirut and the rebuilding of central Beirut was his idea. He had 10 percent of the shares in the Centre Ville scheme. Many thought he might be behind the opposition to the Syrians -- I was hearing this more and more recently. And I told a friend a few days ago in Beirut that an awful lot of politicians in the city were in danger. This was obviously on a tremendous scale, and whoever the perpetrators were they didn't care how many civilians they killed.

He was a great personal friend of French President Jacques Chirac and this will be a great blow to the ties between France and Lebanon. France has all along been trying to underwrite Lebanon's massive $41 billion public debt. So there'll be an immediate economic effect: it was Hariri who stopped the Lebanese pound crashing below 1,500 to the dollar 10 years ago. Without his presence, then we have a serious economic crisis here as well as a political one, because the question is: was he killed because he was believed to be opposing Syria. Would the Syrians dream of doing anything so crude and vicious as this.

Or was it an attempt by some sectarian group to stir up sectarian feelings in a country which of course has a sectarian government, where the president always has to be a Christian Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim and so on.

These are the questions everyone in the street is asking: is this an attempt to stir up the civil war again and restart it. The words "civil war" was on everyone's lips within 15 minutes.

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