Explosion rocks Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon

July 9, 2013 4:12:30 AM PDT
A large explosion rocked a stronghold of the Shiite militant Hezbollah group south of the Lebanese capital Tuesday, setting several cars on fire, sending a thick plume of black smoke billowing into the sky and wounding at least 15 people, security officials said.

The powerful blast in a bustling commercial and residential neighborhood came as many Lebanese Shiites began observing the holy month of Ramadan, and is the worst explosion to hit the area in years -- direct fallout of the civil war raging in neighboring Syria.

With skirmishes between Shiites and Sunnis 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 Hezbollah joined Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops in their battle against opposition fighters.

"This is a message, but we will not bow," said Ziad Waked, a municipal official speaking to Hezbollah's Al-Manar television.

Tuesday's explosion struck the area of Beir el-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 Islamic Coop, a supermarket usually packed with shoppers, and a petrol station.

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