A powerful car bomb ripped through a southern Beirut district today, killing 20 people and trapping others in burning buildings in a Hezbollah stronghold.
It’s the second such blast in just over a month in south Beirut. Groups opposed to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad have threatened to retaliate against Hezbollah for intervening on behalf of his regime in the Syrian civil war.
Lebanese TV showed a raging fire and thick black smoke from the blast, which set ablaze several cars. Dozens of ambulances rushed to the scene of the explosion and fire fighters were seen trying to evacuate residents from burning buildings. Security sources told Reuters that 20 people had been killed in the blast, and dozens more were wounded.
The explosion occurred on a bustling street in the Rweiss district, a heavily Shia area and one of Hezbollah’s bastions of support. Last month, a car bomb exploded in the nearby Beir al-Abed district, wounding more than 50 people.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said the blast occurred on the main road separating Rweiss from Beir al-Abed. An Associated Press photographer saw at least two bodies and many wounded.
The violence raises the spectre of Lebanon being pulled into the increasingly sectarian civil war raging next door in Syria. Sunni-Shia tensions have risen sharply in Lebanon, particularly since Hezbollah raised its profile by openly fighting alongside Assad’s forces. Lebanese Sunnis support the rebels fighting to topple Assad, a member of a Shia offshoot sect.
Syria-based rebels and militant Islamist groups have threatened to target Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon in retaliation for its increasingly overt role in Syria. The group’s fighters played a key role in a recent regime victory in the town of Qusair near the Lebanese border, and Syrian activists say they are now aiding a regime offensive in the besieged city of Homs.