x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Explosion in Beirut rocks Hizbollah stronghold

Security officials in Beirut say at least 15 people were wounded in an explosion from a car bomb in Beir Al Abed, southern Beirut.

Men try to put out fires caused by a car bomb in the Hizbollah stronghold of Bir Al Abed in southern Beirut.
Men try to put out fires caused by a car bomb in the Hizbollah stronghold of Bir Al Abed in southern Beirut.

BEIRUT // A large explosion rocked a stronghold of Hizbollah south of the Lebanese capital today, setting several cars on fire, sending a thick plume of black smoke billowing into the sky and wounding at least 15 people, according to security officials said.

The powerful blast in a bustling commercial and residential neighbourhood is the worst explosion to hit the area in years — a direct fallout of the civil war raging in neighbouring Syria.

“This is a message, but we will not bow,” said Ziad Waked, a municipal official speaking to Hizbollah’s Al Manar television.

Today’s explosion struck the area of Beir Al Abed, and was most likely caused by a car bomb, officials said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

They said the blast was in the parking near the a Co-op, a supermarket usually packed with shoppers, and a petrol station.

Al Manar said 18 people were wounded.

The area is near what is known as Hizbollah’s “security square” where many of the party’s officials live and have offices.

Hizbollah operatives in civilian clothes, some of them carrying Kalashnikov rifles, cordoned off the site of the explosion with yellow ribbons. They and Lebanese security officials barred journalists from approaching the site itself.

Ambulances and fire engines, their sirens wailing, raced to the area and witnesses said casualties were rushed to the nearby Bahman and Rasoul Al-Atham hospitals. Immediately after the blast, people could be seen running in the street away from the site of the explosion which set several cars on fire.

The power of the explosion shattered windows and damaged several buildings in the busy residential and commercial area.

With skirmishes on the rise around the country, religiously mixed and dangerously fragile Lebanon is increasingly buffeted by powerful forces that are dividing the Arab world along sectarian lines. Some Syrian rebel groups, which are predominantly Sunni, have threatened to strike in Lebanon after Hizbollah joined Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s troops in their battle against opposition fighters.

In May, two rockets slammed into a Hizbollah stronghold in south Beirut, wounding four people. The rockets struck hours after Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed in a speech to help propel Assad to victory in Syria’s civil war.

In June, a rocket slammed into the same area, causing no casualties.

Hizbollah has openly joined the fight in Syria, and the group’s fighters were instrumental in a recent regime victory when government forces regained control of the strategic town of Qusayr near the Lebanese border.