Lebanon's capital hit by rockets amid fears Syria's civil war is spreading

Syrian rebels suspected of launching missiles at car dealership and residential building amid fears civil war may be spreading into Lebanon

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 2:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 4:26am

A pair of rockets slammed into a car dealership and a residential building in strongholds of Lebanon's Hezbollah militia in southern Beirut yesterday, wounding four people and raising fears that Syria's civil war is increasingly spreading into Lebanon.

Lebanon's sectarian divide mirrors that of Syria, and Lebanese armed factions have taken sides in the neighbour's civil war.

There was no claim of responsibility for yesterday's attack. However, a Syrian rebel commander threatened this week to strike against Hezbollah strongholds in retaliation for the militia's military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group, while most of the Syrian rebels are Sunnis.

Street fighting between rival Lebanese groups has been relatively common since the end of their country's 15-year civil war in 1990, but rocket or artillery attacks in Beirut are rare.

The rockets struck hours after Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah vowed to help propel Assad to victory and warned that the Syrian leader's overthrow would give rise to extremists.

One rocket struck a car dealership in the Mar Mikhael district, on the southern edge of the capital, wounding four Syrian workers, according to Lebanese security officials. After the attack, part of the rocket's main body was left embedded in the ground. Two cars were badly damaged and others had windows broken.

Another rocket hit the second floor of an apartment building in the Chiyah district, about two kilometres away. It damaged a living room, but no one was hurt.

Lebanese media said security forces were searching for a third unexploded rocket.

A security official said rocket launchers were found in the woods in a predominantly Christian and Druse area in suburbs southeast of Beirut.

An ongoing battle in the Syrian town of Qusair on the Lebanese border has laid bare Hezbollah's growing role in the Syrian conflict. The Iranian-backed militia and Syrian troops launched an offensive against the town last weekend. After dozens of Hezbollah fighters were killed in Qusair over the past week and buried in large funerals in Lebanon, Hezbollah could no longer play down its involvement.

Colonel Abdul-Jabbar al-Aqidi, commander of the Syrian rebels' Military Council in Aleppo, appeared in a video last 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.

"We will strike at your strongholds in Dahiyeh, God willing," he said, using the Lebanese name for Hezbollah's power centre in southern Beirut.

Hezbollah lawmaker Ali Ammar said the incident targeted coexistence between the Lebanese, and claimed the US and Israel want to return Lebanon to civil war. "They want to throw Lebanon backward into the traps of civil wars that we left behind," he said. "We will not go backward."

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

Nasrallah's speech on Saturday offered the clearest public confirmation yet that the militia is directly involved in Syria's war. His remarks were also the first since Hezbollah fighters pushed to the front lines of Qusair.

In his televised address, he said Hezbollah members are fighting in Syria against Islamist radicals who pose a danger to Lebanon, and pledged that his group will not allow them to control areas along the border.

"We will continue this road until the end, we will take the responsibility and we will make all the sacrifices," he said.