A car bomb exploded in a crowded parking lot in Beirut’s southern suburbs on Tuesday, killing no one, but wounding about 50 people in what was a rare attack inside one of Hezbollah’s most secure areas.
The explosion, in an area surrounded by the homes, offices and military installations of the powerful Shiite militant organization, destroyed several cars and sparked a series of small fires. At least eight of the people taken to a local hospital were described by health ministry officials as having serious injuries, while the rest were treated for flying glass as the explosion blew in windows throughout the surrounding apartment blocks.
A previously little known jihadist group fighting in Syria, the 313 Special Projects Brigades, claimed responsibility on its Facebook page, saying the blast was retaliation for Hezbollah’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. It also claimed two other, much smaller, bombings in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley last week that appeared to have hurt no one. Leaders of the Syrian rebels were quick to deny any involvement.
Security sources told a Hezbollah affiliated television network that the bomb contained about 75 pounds of explosive.
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Tensions between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities has grown in recent weeks because of Hezbollah’s backing for Assad, and many Lebanese feared the attack represented an escalation in what is becoming an increasingly violent and bitter sectarian rift in an already fragile country.
Hezbollah fighters stepped in to rescue acting Interior Minister Marwan Charbel when he visited the scene. Chanting “Shiite blood is boiling,” the crowd surrounded Charbel’s entourage until black clad Hezbollah gunmen fired their weapons into the air to disperse the crowd.
Lebanon has seen a rise in incidents that are widely considered connected to the Syria’s civil war, including open fighting between pro-r and anti-Assad factions in the northern city of Tripoli, and multiple rocket attacks against Shiite communities originating in Syria. Hezbollah, which has sent fighters to assist Syrian soldiers in fighting in Qusayr and Homs, also was involved in the assault on a Sunni cleric’s mosque complex in Sidon.
Hezbollah’s security efforts are likely to be increased, but the area around the attack already is among the most secure in Lebanon, with a network of closed circuit TV cameras operated by Hezbollah’s internal security department, as well as regular patrols, a population trained to look for unusual behavior and visitors, and a series of nightly patrols with bomb sniffing dogs.