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Church bomb explosion kills nine in Lebanon

A bomb exploded in a packed Maronite Catholic church Sunday, killing nine worshipers and wounding at least 60 as they lined up in front of the altar to take Communion, police and witnesses said.

The carnage at Notre Dame De La Delivrance could have been far worse _ a larger bomb was found inside the church's organ and defused.

The bombing, hard on the heels of the massacre of Muslims at a mosque in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, underlined the scope of the region's religious animosities and the threat they pose to the Middle East peace process.

It also marked a setback for Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's efforts to restore law and order after the 1975-90 civil war that made his country notorious for violence.

Lebanese and Syrian officials blamed Israel, accusing it of trying to divert attention from the mosque massacre. There was no official comment immediately from Jerusalem.

Police said the bomb was made up of two mortar shells connected to a detonator and placed under a table supporting an icon of the Virgin Mary.

The blast sent the congregation of about 250 people storming hysterically out of the church, past pools of blood and piles of glass shards and broken pews.

"There was a lot of screaming as icons fell off the wall, benches broke into pieces, bibles were shredded with pages flying all over the church hall," said Associated Press reporter Bahjat Jaber, who was attending the service.

The dead included a 4-year-old girl.

Pieces of human flesh, torn clothes and shoes were still scattered across the blood-soaked carpeting several hours later.

The blast blew off the lid of the church organ, revealing an even larger ordnance hidden inside the instrument. Police defused the second bomb, made of four mortar shells connected to a single detonator.