x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Beirut bombing Lebanon's deadliest since Hariri assassination in 2005

Syria's conflict overflows again as militant Sunni group claims responsibility for attack in retaliation for the Hizbollah's support for Assad regime.

Lebanese residents and Hizbollah supporters gather at the scene of a car bombing that ripped through a southern Beirut neighbourhood, killing at least 14 people and injuring hundreds.
Lebanese residents and Hizbollah supporters gather at the scene of a car bombing that ripped through a southern Beirut neighbourhood, killing at least 14 people and injuring hundreds.

BEIRUT // A car bomb targeting Hizbollah killed more than a dozen people in southern Beirut yesterday, the deadliest bombing in Lebanon since the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, which killed him and 21 others.

The bombing underscored how Syria's conflict has affected the region as a militant Sunni group said it had attacked the Hizbollah neighbourhood in retaliation for the Lebanese Shiite group's support for Bashar Al Assad's regime.

State television showed flames spreading across the street, and thick black smoke covered the site as ambulances and civil defence personnel rushed to the scene.

In a YouTube video, a group calling itself the Brigades of Aisha claimed responsibility for the attack, which it described as a warning to Hizbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah.

"We send you Hassan Nasrallah and your party our second resonant, strong message after having sent you our first message and you still do not understand," the group said, referring to an earlier attack in Bir Al Abed on July 9, in which a car bomb exploded and injured 50 people.

"Nasrallah is an agent for Iran and Israel and we promise more for him," it added.

Lebanon's state-run news agency said 14 people were killed and more than 200 wounded while a security official told Reuters that the death toll was 20.

The bombings were seen as a worrying sign of Syria's conflict overflowing into Lebanon, a country which has long been a venue for regional battles. Already sectarian tensions have flared, leading to street battles in Tripoli to the north of Beirut and Sidon to the south between groups that back different sides in the Syrian conflict.

In May two rockets were fired in southern Beirut. In October last year, a senior intelligence official who was close to Lebanon's leading Sunni party was killed in a car bombing.

Ultraconservative Sunni groups have escalated their rhetoric against Hizbollah, which has been assisting the Assad regime in the battle against Sunni rebel groups in Syria.

Hizbollah has maintained that the uprising in Syria was a conspiracy wrought by the US, Israel and Gulf states to weaken the "resistance" against Israel.

The Lebanese government has maintained a policy of disassociation with the Syrian civil war, but the fact that Hizbollah - the most powerful political and military force in the country - openly embraced the Assad government has deeply undermined Lebanon's security.

The fear is that Hizbollah, which is heavily armed and can count on thousands of fighters, will be provoked into a broader conflict in Lebanon with Sunni groups supporting Syria's rebels. So far, however, Hizbollah has allowed the Lebanese army to lead up security operations against groups carrying out attacks within the country.

bhope@thenational.ae

*With additional reporting by Reuters and Bloomberg News

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