BEIRUT (AFP) - Iran's ambassador to Lebanon narrowly escaped a twin suicide bombing outside the embassy that killed 23 people, including an aide and four guards, an Iranian diplomatic source said on Wednesday.
"Ambassador Ghazanfar Rokn-Abadi was on his way with cultural attache Ibrahim Ansari to see Lebanese Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun," the Iranian diplomatic source said of Tuesday's attack.
"The attache was waiting in the car near the entrance when the first suicide attacker blew himself up. The ambassador, who would have left the building within a minute, went back."
Ansari and four embassy guards were among the dead, said Iran's deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who arrived in Beirut on Wednesday.
"Among the innocent, pure martyrs were four guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as were the Iranian cultural attache Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari and an innocent Iranian woman," he told reporters.
The twin suicide attack was claimed by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group and is the first of its kind against the Lebanon mission of Iran, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran has had a military adviser mission in Syria since 1980 and is the key backer of Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has intervened in the conflict in support of Assad's forces.
The Iranian mission hit by Tuesday's bombings is located in a Hezbollah bastion in south Beirut.
In an interview with AFP, Hezbollah political bureau chief Sheikh Ibrahim Amin al-Sayed denounced the bombings as a "cowardly, desperate act".
He dared Hezbollah's opponents "to come fight in Syria".
Russian ambassador Alexander Zaspekin charged that the bombings were an attempt to torpedo a peace conference the United Nations is trying to organise next month with the backing of both Moscow and Washington.
They "target... efforts being made towards a peaceful solution," Mr Zaspekin said.