At least one person was killed and dozens of others were wounded Tuesday when a car bomb exploded in Beirut\’s southern suburbs, a stronghold of the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah terror group that has been fighting in Syria\’s civil war, Lebanese security sources said.
The Lebanese Red Cross said about 37 people were wounded in the Dahiya stronghold bombing. Hezbollah\’s Al-Manar television reported that the car bomb exploded in a parking lot near the Islamic Cooperation Center in the Bir al-Abed area of Dahiyeh.
The sources were unable to confirm initial reports from medics at the scene that an unspecified number of people were killed in the blast, which was described as "massive." Ambulances and fire trucks rushed to the scene just before noon and plumes of thick smoke could be seen from miles away.
At least a dozen vehicles in a parking lot were set on fire as residents rushed to rescue the wounded and clear the debris, Lebanon\’s Daily Star reported. Hezbollah cordoned off the explosion site, preventing security personnel from accessing the area, a security source told the Voice of Lebanon.
Reuters and other media outlets were prevented from reaching the area, where Hezbollah gunmen allowed only the group\’s Al Manar TV to operate.
Tensions in Lebanon have been high following the intervention of Hezbollah in support of President Bashar Assad\’s forces fighting a two-year revolt led by Syria\’s Sunni Muslim majority.
"This is the work of agents trying to create strife in Lebanon," Hezbollah parliamentary Deputy Ali Meqdad said while visiting the site of the explosion.
Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar said, "This malicious act clearly bears the fingerprint of the Israeli enemy and its tools," according to Lebanon\’s Daily Star. Ammar said that no member of Hezbollah was hurt in the explosion.
But despite the accusations leveled against Israel, there were reports of celebratory gunfire in Bab Tabbaneh in Tripoli, the scene of anti-Shiite and anti-Assad clashes.
Contacted by a Reuters reporter, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said, "I am not familiar with this incident."
"The war in Syria has found its way to Lebanon long ago because of Hezbollah\’s involvement in it. You can see it in Tripoli, Beirut and Sidon and in this morning\’s car bomb attack," Defense Minister Moshe Ya\’alon said. "This fight is between the Sunnis and the Shiites and Israel will not intervene in it," he stressed.
A Reuters reporter on the scene saw a large fire raging at the site of the blast, which apparently targeted a shopping mall in the Bir al-Abed area. The area is also home to many Hezbollah political offices.
A pillar of dense black smoke billowed above surrounding high-rise apartment blocks. Ambulances and fire engines sped through the streets to rescue casualties. Fires were raging from dozens of cars which were set ablaze in the parking lot where the car rigged with explosives was left.
"I haven\’t heard an explosion like this one since the 1980s (when a car bomb targeted Hezbollah\’s late spiritual leader Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah)," a woman in southern Beirut said.
Shopping areas would likely have been full on Tuesday, the day before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins.
The attack is the second strike to hit Shiite southern Beirut this year. Two rockets hit the area in May and Lebanese security forces have disarmed several rockets near Beirut in recent months as well.
It was unclear who was behind Tuesday\’s blast or May\’s attack. It was unclear whether any members of the Hezbollah leadership were in the area on Tuesday.
The last car bomb to hit Beirut targeted a senior intelligence official in October. Wissam al-Hassan was part of the country\’s leading Sunni opposition party, which has supported the uprising in Syria.
Syria\’s conflagration has polarized Lebanon, a country of four million that is still healing from its own 15-year civil war, a conflict that divided the country along similar sectarian lines now plaguing Syria.
Lebanon\’s Sunni Muslims mostly support the rebels in Syria, while Shiites have largely supported Assad, who is part of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Sunni Muslim militant groups have threatened to carry out attacks against Hezbollah following its military intervention in Syria.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has promised that his group will continue fighting for Assad after it spearheaded the recapture of the strategic town of Qusair last month.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah was aware of the cost of military engagement in Syria\’s civil war and would not be deflected from its goal.