Sectarian violence intensifies in Lebanon
Rocket attacks hit Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut as tensions increase in Lebanon over Syria's civil war.PT0M0S 620 349
Rockets have slammed into two southern Beirut neighbourhoods that are strongholds of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, wounding four people and raising fears that Syria's civil war is increasingly moving to Lebanon.
Lebanon's sectarian divide mirrors that of Syria, and Lebanese armed factions have taken sides in their neighbour's civil war. One leader of Syria's overwhelmingly Sunni rebels had threatened to strike Hezbollah strongholds to retaliate against the Iranian-backed Shiite group for sending fighters to assist Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Street fighting between rival Lebanese groups has been relatively common since the end of the country's 1975-1990 civil war, but rocket or artillery attacks on Beirut neighbourhoods are rare.
Rocket strike: There are fears that Syria's civil war is increasingly moving to Lebanon. Photo: Reuters
The rockets were launched hours after the militant group's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, vowed to help propel Assad to victory in Syria's civil war and warned that his overthrow would give rise to extremists.
One rocket fired Sunday landed in the Mar Mikhael district on the southern edge of the capital, striking a car exhibit near a church on the street and causing all four casualties, a Lebanese army statement said. Another struck the second floor of an apartment in a building in Chiyah district south of Beirut, about two kilometres away from Mar Mikhael. The apartment's balcony appeared peppered with shrapnel, but no one was wounded.
The state-run National News Agency said among the wounded in the Mar Mikhael blast were three Syrians.
A security official said rocket launchers were found in woods in a predominantly Christian and Druse area in suburbs southeast of Beirut. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
An ongoing battle in the Syrian town of Qusair on the Lebanese border, which government troops backed by Hezbollah pounded with artillery on Saturday, has laid bare the Shiite group's growing role in the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah initially tried to play down its involvement, but could no longer do so after dozens of its fighters were killed in the town and buried in large funerals in Lebanon.
Col. Abdul-Jabbar al-Aqidi, commander of the Syrian rebels' Military Council in Aleppo, appeared in a video this week while apparently en route to Qusair, in which he threatened to strike Beirut's southern suburbs in retaliation for Hezbollah's involvement in Syria.
"We used to say before, 'We are coming Bashar.' Now we say, 'We are coming Bashar and we are coming Hassan Nasrallah,"' he said, in reference to Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.
"We will strike at your strongholds in Dahiyeh, God willing," he said, using the Lebanese name for Hezbollah's power centre in southern Beirut. The video was still online on Youtube on Sunday.
Hezbollah lawmaker Ali Ammar said the incident targeted coexistence between the Lebanese and said the US and Israel want to return Lebanon to the years of civil war. "They want to throw Lebanon backwards into the traps of civil wars that we left behind," he told reporters. "We will not go backwards."
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel blamed "saboteurs" and said: "We hope what is happening in Syria does not move to Lebanon."
Nasrallah's Saturday speech offered the clearest public confirmation yet that the Iranian-backed group is directly involved in Syria's war. They also were Nasrallah's first remarks since Hezbollah fighters have pushed to the front lines of the battle for Qusair.
Lebanese Sunnis sympathetic to the Syrian opposition have also been fighting in Syria alongside the rebels. Nasrallah urged both sides to fight for their side in Syria "and leave Lebanon out of it."