The Christian Lebanese Forces militia hinted that it would retaliate for a massive car bomb in east Beirut and indirectly blamed Syria for the attack that killed 20 people and wounded 80 others.

Without mentioning Syria by name, Karim Pakradouni, the deputy commander of the Christian militia, said those who planted the bomb Monday were attempting to strike at "last stronghold of freedom" in Lebanon - a reference to the Christian region."Yesterday we received the message through the media, and today we got the bloody message, but we know how to respond to all these messages," Pakradouni said Monday.

He was referring to a statement Sunday by Syrian Information Minister Mohammad Salman, who said upcoming presidential elections will not take place unless Christian east Beirut and Moslem west Beirut are reunited.

Syria brought west Beirut under its military control Feb. 22, 1987, when it deployed a 7,000-strong force to end three years of fighting between various Moslem and leftist militia groups.

A 700-man Syrian force was deployed in the Shiite Moslem southern suburbs of Beirut on Friday to disengage warring Shiite factions that had battled for 21 days for control of that area.

Police said a booby-trapped car, a Swedish-made Volvo laden with 154 pounds of explosives, blew up early Monday a few hundred yards from a hospital in a bustling shopping area in the neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh.

Police and hospital sources said at least 20 people were killed and 80 wounded in the blast.

"The bodies were charred and mutilated beyond recognition," said a source at St. Georges Hospital.