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October 3, 2012 12:02 pm

Lebanon Explosions May Signal Syrian Civil War’s Expansion

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Syrian Commander Riad al-Asaad, who heads a contingent of Syrian army defectors, in a screenshot from a video from his group's Facebook page. Photo: Free Syrian Army.

JERUSALEM An explosion killed between four and nine people in a Hezbollah-controlled portion of eastern Lebanon on Wednesday, according to breaking news reports coming from the region, igniting suspicion that local Hezbollah forces are being drawn into the Syrian civil war. While a report in the Daily Star, Lebanon’s English language daily newspaper, cited at least four dead, a later report in Albawaba News claimed that “at least nine people were killed and seven injured” in what is being described as “a series of explosions.”

Residents told the AFP that a “stockpile of weapons” detonated in the Bekaa Valley town of Nabi Sheet, some eighty kilometers from the capital Beirut. Following the explosions, the area was immediately ringed by Hezbollah gunmen. There were also reports, as of yet unconfirmed, that several of those wounded in the incident were Syrian citizens.

The blast was centered on a building, currently under construction, in a non-residential area between villages of Nabichit and Khodr, belonging to one Muhammad Adnan Musawi, which likely housed “a stockpile of weapons,” Albawaba reported. Both Bekaa Valley villages are part of a Hezbollah stronghold that was the site of rocket launchers used against Israel in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

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The Daily Star quoted an anonymous local official who confirmed that the the explosion “most likely targeted a ‘Hezbollah arms depot.'”

Hezbollah MP Kamel Rifai told the Lebanese newspaper that his organization does not, as a matter of policy, store arms in residential areas.

This is an assertion that has been challenged by the Israeli military and intelligence think tanks such as the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which, during the 2006 war, produced drone footage of the Iranian and Syrian backed militia moving weapons into civilian neighborhoods.

Rifai stated that “The area where the reported blast took place is an industrial and agricultural area, so it could have been anything.”

While both Hamas and Hezbollah arms caches, in Gaza and Lebanon respectively, have previously exploded due to poor handling and storage of weapons, it is possible that the explosion signals a further spillover of neighboring Syria’s civil war into the nation once known as the Switzerland of the Middle East.

The Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group operating against the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war, took credit this week for the deaths of several Hezbollah fighters. Among those killed in an explosion in Homs triggered by the resistance was Ali Hussein Nassif, known by the nom de guerre of Abu Abbas, a senior Hezbollah commander in Syria.

Following Abu Abbas’ death, FSA commander Col. Riad al-Asaad stated that his forces would continue to attack Iranian and Hezbollah forces operating against the Syrian rebels.

“Anyone who supports the Assad regime is a partner in crime and deserves punishment,” he stated, claiming that more than 300 such Hezbollah and Iranian operatives had already been killed in Qusayr.

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