x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bomb targets Hizbollah in Lebanon, as Syrian mortars land in Israel

Fears that Syria's war will spill over into neighbouring countries as Hizbollah convoy bombed in Lebanon, and mortars land in Israel.

Israeli soldiers north of the Golan Heights watch the Syrian border through smoke, allegedly caused by Syrian mortar shells, after some shells landed on the Israeli side of the border.
Israeli soldiers north of the Golan Heights watch the Syrian border through smoke, allegedly caused by Syrian mortar shells, after some shells landed on the Israeli side of the border.

BEIRUT // A roadside bomb struck a jeep carrying members of the Shiite Hizbollah group near Lebanon's border with Syria yesterday, wounding at least two people, a police official said.

The official said the vehicle appeared to have been part of a Hizbollah convoy heading to Syria and that the casualties were transported in ambulances affiliated with the group to a hospital in Beirut.

The bombing came hours after mortar shells from Syria hit the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, highlighting fears that the Syrian civil war could further destabilise the region.

Lebanon, long troubled by Syria's civil war and its potential to overwhelm its smaller neighbour, has been on edge since a powerful car bomb wounded 53 people last Tuesday in a Hizbollah stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs.

To many in Lebanon, that blast confirmed fears that the Iranian-backed group, a staunch ally of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, would face retaliation for fighting alongside Syrian regime troops.

Yesterday's blast struck the jeep as it was driving on the main road in Majdal Anjar leading from Lebanon to the Syrian capital, and about 1.5 kilometres from the Masnaa border crossing. The road is frequently used by Hizbollah security officials and other Lebanese officials headed to the Syrian capital.

The state-run National News Agency identified the wounded men as Hussein Ali Bdeir and Fadi Abdul Karim. Local media reports said the two may have been bodyguards for a Hizbollah official travelling in the convoy.

Lebanese security officials said the bomb appeared to have been detonated remotely.

Hizbollah's Al Manar TV did not report the explosion and a Hizbollah official said the group had no information on the blast.

The group's fighters played a key role in a recent victory by Mr Al Assad's forces to retake control of the strategic Syrian town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, where rebels held sway for more than a year. Syrian activists said Hizbollah fighters were aiding a regime offensive in the besieged city of Homs.

The Israeli military said yesterday that a number of what appeared to be mortar shells struck the Golan Heights yesterday, but caused no damage. It did not believe the fire was aimed at Israel.

Israel has been watching the Syrian conflict, fearing the violence could spill across its borders. Mortar shells have exploded sporadically inside Israeli territory since the conflict began, causing damage but no injuries. Israel believes most were errant shots, but has accused Syria of aiming at Israeli targets on several occasions. Israeli troops have returned fire briefly.

Israel is believed to have carried out four air strikes in Syria in recent months against weapons thought to be destined for Hizbollah militants in Lebanon.

Inside Syria, pro-government gunmen killed seven members of a local Syrian reconciliation group near Homs, as troops shot dead nine people including a child at a checkpoint in a suburb of the capital, activists said.

It was not clear whether the adults killed were fighters or civilians. An amateur video showed seven dead men, some of them with beards, and a boy with a bloodied face. The dead appeared to have suffered bullet wounds, some to the head.

"These are Bashar's crimes during Ramadan," a man could be heard saying in the video.

The killings coincide with an offensive by Mr Al Assad's troops in Damascus and its surrounding suburbs, as well as in the strategic province surrounding Homs.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven men, including two retired army officers, were Sunnis working to convince gunmen to drop their weapons and return to normal life. They were killed on Monday in the village of Hajar Abyad, where residents are known to be regime supporters, it said.

Assad regime troops have captured several nearby rebel-held areas in recent weeks. They have also made headway against fighter brigades on the edge of Damascus and eastern suburbs.

The uprising against Mr Al Assad's rule began in March 2011 and has deteriorated into an insurgency with growing sectarian overtones. Rebels have been helped by foreign fighters, while government forces have been bolstered by Hizbollah guerrillas and Shiite fighters from Iraq.

The Observatory also reported fighting in the town of Qahtaniyeh on the edge of the Golan Heights.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said regime forces were attacking rebels in the town.

 

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse