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Hussein Malla, Associated Press
Lebanese firefighters extinguish burning cars at the scene of an explosion in the mostly Christian neighborhood of Achrafiyeh in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday Oct. 19, 2012. Lebanon's state-run news agency says a massive blast in east Beirut was caused by a car bomb and that there are casualties. An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw bloodied people being helped into ambulances and heavy damage to what appeared to be residential buildings.

BEIRUT — A car bomb ripped through eastern Beirut on Friday, shearing the balconies of off residential buildings and sending bloodied victims pouring out into the streets in the most serious blast this city has seen in years.

The casualty toll was not immediately clear, but an Associated Press reporter at the scene saw victims with what appeared to be grave injuries. One young girl was bleeding profusely from her head; other wounded were being loaded into ambulances.

"I was standing nearby in Sassine Square and I heard a big explosion and I ran straight to it," resident Elie Khalil told The Associated Press. He said he saw at least 15 bloodied people in a nearby parking lot before medics arrived and took them to a hospital.

The motive behind the blast and its target were not immediately clear. It comes at a time when Lebanon has seen a rise in tension and eruptions of clashes stemming from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The state-run National News Agency said the blast was a car bomb and that preliminary information indicated that there were deaths.