Car bomb hits Hezbollah stronghold in east Lebanon

Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — A car bomb struck a stronghold of the Shiite militant Hezbollah group in eastern Lebanon early on Tuesday, causing a number of casualties, Lebanon's state-run news agency said.

A Lebanese official and the group's Al-Manar TV confirmed the blast and said it occurred near the remote village of Sbouba in the Baalbek region, but there was no immediate word on the nature of the explosion or the target. The TV station owned by Hezbollah said there were no casualties.

The explosion appears to be part of a wave of attacks on Hezbollah strongholds and interests in Lebanon. The group is fighting in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad's troops and has received threats of retaliation from the largely Sunni rebels fighting to topple him.

A Lebanese security official confirmed the explosion but said there was no immediate word on the nature of the target or casualties. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The National News Agency said in its report that the explosion occurred about two kilometers (mile) away from a Hezbollah center on the road between Sbouba and Wadi Abu Mousa. The car bomb was "intercepted" at a Hezbollah checkpoint and exploded after members of the checkpoint fired on it, the report said. It was unclear if the car detonated from the gunshots or if the driver set off the explosion.

The NNN said there were multiple casualties and that ambulances were rushing to the area, which was sealed off by the militant group.

Hezbollah's participation in the civil war in Syria is highly divisive and unpopular in Lebanon, where many feel it has deviated from its original purpose of fighting Israel and that it has exposed the Shiite community to retaliation.

The group's open support of Assad has enraged Sunnis and left it with no shortage of enemies eager to strike at its strongholds and leadership. Dozens of people have been killed in deadly car bombings claimed by radical Sunni groups.

Most recently, on Dec. 4, gunmen assassinated a senior Hezbollah commander, Hassan al-Laqees, in the garage of his building in a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut.

And last month, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, killing 23 people. An al-Qaida-affiliated group claimed responsibility, saying it was payback for Hezbollah's support of Assad.

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