Sunday 20 October 2019

Rockets hit Beirut neighbourhoods

A Lebanese policeman stands at a damaged balcony where a rocket struck an apartment in a building, at Chiyah district south of Beirut (AP)
A Lebanese policeman stands at a damaged balcony where a rocket struck an apartment in a building, at Chiyah district south of Beirut (AP)

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.

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 on 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 a mile 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 south-east of Beirut.

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.

Colonel 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 in 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 center in southern Beirut. The video was still online on Youtube on Sunday.

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel blamed "saboteurs" and said: "We hope what is happening in Syria does not move to Lebanon."

PA Media

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