A bomb exploded in a Hezbollah militant stronghold in the southern suburb of Beirut today, injuring dozens and sending a thick plume of smoke billowing over the Lebanese capital.
Caretaker Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said 53 people were wounded in the attack in the Bir El Abed area, including 12 who remained hospitalized. The official National News Agency said the bomb was placed inside a parked car area and that no arrests had been made.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the blast, which occurred at a time of growing sectarian tensions fanned by the civil war in neighboring Syria. Lebanon’s caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said in an interview broadcast on Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV that the attack was designed to incite conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
A column of smoke rose from the parking lot where the blast went off, and ambulances and fire fighters arrived at the scene, Al Manar footage showed.
Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar, said in an interview from Larnaca, Cyprus, that the explosion was “probably a sectarian-inspired blast unless it was trying to get a high-value target.”
‘Very Dangerous Development’
“It smacks of the pattern of what we’ve seen in other sectarian fields of conflict in the region, not least in Iraq and Syria,” he added. “That would be a very dangerous development.”
In May, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said his Iranian-backed group was helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fight insurgents. Syrian rebels, most of them Sunni Muslims, have threatened to target the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah for backing Assad.
The spillover from the Syrian war was also in evidence last month in clashes in the southern city of Sidon between the Lebanese army and anti-Hezbollah Sunnis whose leader declared a holy war on Assad. The Sunnis accused Hezbollah of backing the Lebanese army against them.
Louay Almokdad, logistical coordinator for the rebel Free Syrian Army, said the FSA “condemned this cowardly terrorist attack.”
Clashes between Assad supporters and opponents have also frequently erupted in the northern city of Tripoli. LCB TV reported today that residents of the city’s Sunni Muslim Bab el-Tibbaneh area fired in the air to express joy over the explosion in the capital.
To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu-Nasr in Beirut at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com