A Sunni Islamist group calling itself the Brigades of Aisha claimed responsibility for a deadly explosion in southern Beirut, saying it targeted the militant group Hezbollah and promising more attacks.The powerful car bomb ripped through a neighborhood that is a stronghold of the militant group Hezbollah on Thursday, killing at least 14 people, wounding 120 and trapping many others in burning buildings, witnesses and emergency officials said.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said Israel was behind the blast. "The fingerprints of the Israeli terrorism are all over it. Their goal is to destabilize the region and undermine the steadfastness of the Lebanese people." Druze leader Walid Jumblatt also attributed the blast to Israel, as did former Hezbollah MP.
It's the second such blast in just over a month in south Beirut. Groups opposed to Syria's President Bashar Assad have threatened to retaliate against Hezbollah for intervening on behalf of his regime in the Syrian civil war.
"This is the second time that we decide the place of the battle and its timing...And you will see more, God willing," said a masked man, flanked by two others brandishing rifles, in a video statement addressed to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
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 theexplosion and fire fighters were seen trying to evacuate residents from burning buildings.
The explosion occurred on a bustling commercial and residential street in the Rweiss district, a heavily Shiite 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 Thursday's blast occurred on the main road separating Rweiss from Beir al-Abed. It said several bodies were seen on the
street following the explosion.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.
Hezbollah leader Nasrallah has promised that his group will continue fighting for Assad after it spearheaded the recapture of the strategic town.
Syria's conflagration has spread to neighbouring Lebanon, where there have been outbreaks of fighting reflecting the renewed sectarian tension now spreading through the Middle East.Lebanon's Sunni Muslims mostly support the rebels in Syria, while Shi'ites have largely supported Assad, who is part of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
"I heard a huge explosion. It threw me several metres," said a woman in her 50s who said she had been talking to her brother in his shop. "I don't know what happened to my brother. I can't find him," she said, bleeding from wounds to hands and face.