Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed when a car bomb exploded in Beirut Monday, several Lebanese sources reported.
At least nine people have died and dozens were injured in the blast, among them former Education Minister Samir Jisr and former Finance Minister Basil Fuleihan.
Most of the casualties are Hariri's bodyguards.
According to eyewitnesses the blast occurred near an upscale hotel and a branch of the HSBC British bank in the city's Ein el-Marisa district, a tourist area near the beach.
The Lebanese army has sealed-off the area, and police and rescue teams have rushed to the site.
Lebanese media outlets reported the death toll may be very high, and Al-Jazeera said the majority of casualties resulted from shattered glass from nearby buildings.
The Lebanese interior minister said the attack was aimed at destabilizing the country.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said the assassination is a "despicable criminal act," and Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dachlala said, “This is a dark day for Syria, Lebanon, and the Arab world."
The assassination comes in the wake of increased pressure by the international community on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
The pressure culminated with the U.N. Security Council’s resolution 1559, which called (not explicitly) on Syria to halt its involvement in Lebanon’s affairs.
A series of assassination attempts
Hariri, a billionaire businessman who resigned from government last October, had recently joined calls by the opposition for Syrian troops to quit Lebanon in the run-up to a general election in May.
Mohammad Jihad Ahmed Jibril, 41, a military leader and son of Ahmed Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General-Command (PFLP-GC), was torn to shreds by a bomb that ripped through his car in Beirut in May 2002.
Earlier that year, a bomb killed Elie Hobeika, a key figure in a pro-Israeli Lebanese militia involved in a massacre of Palestinian refugees in 1982.
A few months ago Lebanese Finance Minister Marwan Hamada was severely wounded during an assassination attempt.