BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Car bomb, rockets target Hezbollah stronghold

BEIRUT/HERMEL, Lebanon: Two soldiers and a civilian were wounded in rocket attacks on Hermel Tuesday, the same day as a car bomb exploded near a Hezbollah training camp in Baalbek and wounded several of the party’s fighters, an apparent escalation in violence linked to the Syrian war.

Six rockets from Syria hit the northeastern Lebanese city in the afternoon, wounding two soldiers and a civilian, security sources told The Daily Star.

Two groups jointly claimed responsibility for the attack, citing Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.

The Lebanese Army confirmed the attack in a statement, saying one of the rockets hit a military barracks in the Dora neighborhood at 4:30 p.m. wounding two soldiers and resulting in material damage.

The wounded soldiers were identified as Rabih Francis and Hussein al-Musawi. Both were both taken to hospital for treatment, the sources said.

Sweydan Nasreddine, a Hermel resident, was wounded when one rocket fell some 200 meters from the Army barracks, the sources said.

Areas struck by rockets included the Bditat and Morh areas, according to the sources. One rocket also hit close to Hermel’s Serail, falling just 200 meters from the government building, they added.

Rockets fired from Syrian territories have frequently targeted the east of the country this year.

Two Syrian rebel groups jointly claimed responsibility for the rocket fire: “The Nusra Front in Lebanon and the Marwan Hadid Brigades announce the targeting of strongholds of Iran’s party [Hezbollah] with 10 Grad-type rockets in the Hermel region,” they said in statement linked to on Twitter.

They added: “Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria, the continued killing and detention of Sunni youths in Lebanon,” had prompted the attack.

The Marwan Hadid Brigades has already claimed responsibility for several rocket attacks on Hermel this year.

The attack came the same day as an explosives-laden vehicle went off near a Hezbollah post in the country’s northeast in the early hours of the morning.

Images of the site showed four burned-out vehicles, their frames mangled, strewn across a barren area near the village of Sbouba in the Bekaa Valley.

Multiple versions of what happened have emerged.

Security sources said Hezbollah fighters in a convoy were attempting to intercept the vehicle when it exploded near where the group maintains a station for rotating fighters.

The car bomb wounded at least two of the party’s fighters, the sources said.

The vehicle was rigged with 50 kilograms of explosives and was likely detonated remotely as the Hezbollah fighters approached, the sources said.

A judicial source, citing a preliminary investigation, said the vehicle used in the explosion was a Kia Cerato and had been stolen from somewhere in the Bekaa Valley.

Hezbollah cordoned off the area soon after the explosion, the source said, adding that when Military Police arrived at the scene they found several body parts and cement blocks.

Locals said Hezbollah had removed the bodies of victims before the arrival of the military. The Daily Star war unable to confirm whether there were any deaths.

Another security source said that more than 10 fighters were wounded in the attack, with Al-Jadeed TV reporting that at least one of the injured men was in a grave condition.

Military Police were reportedly collecting DNA samples to identify the body parts and determine whether a suicide bomber was involved.

Hezbollah took away two convoy vehicles that had only been slightly damaged, the source said.

The source said the cement blocks at the site were from the Hezbollah post, suggesting the station may have been the target of the attack.

In a brief statement, the Lebanese Army said that a Jeep Grand Cherokee blew up on the road to Sbouba, northwest of Baalbek, at 2:50 a.m., damaging a number of vehicles.

In its evening report on the incident, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar said that around 3:30 a.m. members of the party in a convoy of five vehicles spotted a suspicious car parked on the side of the road as they were making their way to the rotation station.

A man stepped out of the vehicle as soon as the convoy approached and the car was then remotely detonated, the television station said.

Suspecting an ambush, Hezbollah members opened fire and launched a hunt for the driver, the station said, adding that there were casualties.Hezbollah has been targeted on numerous occasions over its role in Syria, where it is fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad against rebels.

The attack is a grave security breach of the party’s political, popular and military apparatus. The area is home to several Hezbollah camps and the road where the car bomb exploded is frequently used by the party’s military vehicles, suggesting that extensive surveillance preceded the attack.

President Michel Sleiman described the attacks in Sbouba and Hermel as the latest attempt to import terrorism into Lebanon.

He urged Lebanon to “continue fighting terrorism and confronting it with all strength,” and said the people should rally around the military and security forces.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 18, 2013, on page 1.

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