Rocket strikes valley near Lebanese capital
Vehicles are seen on the Beirut-Baalbek highway in Chtoura, Lebanon, Friday, June 21, 2013. Lebanese troops opened the highway a day after it was closed by anti-Assad rebels to protest a siege imposed by Shiite gunmen on the eastern town of Arsal. (AP Photo)
BEIRUT (AP) — A rocket slammed into a valley southeast of the Lebanese capital Friday, causing a blast that reverberated across large parts of Beirut and surrounding mountains in an attack that raised fears that violence related to the civil war in neighboring Syria could be spreading from the border area.
Sectarian tensions have risen sharply in Lebanon since the Shiite militant group Hezbollah openly joined President Bashar Assad's forces in fighting the mainly Sunni rebels seeking his ouster. The country has seen repeated bursts of violence but it has mainly been restricted to border areas and the northern city of Tripoli.
After hours of searching, Lebanese soldiers found the rocket in Jamhour, an area near the presidential palace, the defense ministry and the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahyeh, the military said in a statement. Two rocket launchers still holding one rocket also were found about 10 miles (15 kilometers) to the north of the city.
The military said a high voltage electricity cable was damaged in the area where the rocket struck.
Last month, two rockets slammed into Dahyeh, wounding four, hours after the Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed in a speech to help propel Assad to victory.
Protesters stage a sit-in on a street near the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, June 21, 2013. A group of protesters stayed overnight to protest against the 128-member parliament that extended its term by a year and a half last month, skipping scheduled elections because of deteriorating security conditions in the country related to the war in Syria. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Hezbollah has drawn anger at home as Lebanon has been divided into supporters and opponents of Assad, largely along sectarian lines. The gap widened when Hezbollah fighters were instrumental in a recent regime victory as they helped government forces regain control of the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border.
Rebels in Syria have vowed to retaliate and have sent rockets slamming into Hezbollah strongholds in northeastern Lebanon.
Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries that are easily enflamed. Lebanon has been on edge since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011. Lebanon's Sunni Muslims mostly back the overwhelmingly Syrian rebels, while many Shiites support Assad, a member of Syria's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
In addition to the rockets fired from Syria, several areas including the eastern Bekaa Valley have seen rising tensions between rival local groups. On Friday, Lebanese troops opened the Beirut-Baalbek highway a day after it was closed by anti-Assad Lebanese protesters angry over the closure by Shiite gunmen of a road leading to the eastern town of Arsal.