DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A Syria-backed Palestinian militant group Thursday held a funeral for five fighters who died in a blast under mysterious circumstances.
The group has repeatedly claimed Israel was behind the incident. Israel has denied the claim, saying that the blast was an “internal explosion” in one of the group's facilities.
Hundreds gathered at the funeral procession of the five Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command militants at the Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus, waving banners and Palestinian flags and holding portraits of the five who died in the blast.
The faction accused Israel of launching an airstrike early Wednesday targeting one of their military bases in the eastern Lebanese town of Qusaya near the Syrian border. The Israeli army, in a statement, called the allegation “baseless” and accused the PFLP-GC of endangering nearby residential areas by “stockpiling weapons.”
Israel frequently targets Iran-backed militants in Syria but rarely strikes in Lebanon, and rarely confirms or denies responsibility for specific strikes.
A Lebanese military official on Wednesday told The Associated Press that the blast was within the base and that there was no airstrike, while a member of a Damascus-allied regional group said the blast was due to mishandling ammunition. Both spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not cleared to speak with media.
PFLP-GC officials on Thursday insisted that the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike.
“Whether or not they admit to it doesn't matter to us,” Abu Kifah Ghazi a member of the PFLP-GC's leadership told the AP. “Their denial is because they fear a retaliation to avenge the martyrs.”
Mohammad Jibril, a military official from the group who said he was in Qusaya during the blast, told the AP that an Israeli drone targeted the site.
The Lebanese army and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group have not commented publicly on the incident.
Associated Press writer Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.