Loud explosion rocks southern Beirut


BEIRUT (AP) — A powerful explosion ripped through a stronghold of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group in a southern suburb of the capital Beirut Thursday. Lebanese Tv showed burning cars in the street and said there were casualties.

It was not immediately clear what caused Thursday's explosion in the Rweiss district, but last month a powerful car bomb exploded in a neighboring suburb, wounding more than 50 people.

Hezbollah's Al Manar TV said Thursday's blast occurred on a main road separating Rweiss from Beir al-Abed, the site of last month's explosion. The area is heavily Shiite and is one of Hezbollah's bastions of support. Al Manar said several bodies were seen on the street following the explosion.

The violence raises the specter of Lebanon being pulled into the increasingly sectarian civil war raging next door in Syria.

The Syrian conflict, now in its third year, is whipping up sectarian fervor in Lebanon. Sunni-Shiite tensions have risen sharply, particularly since Hezbollah raised its profile by openly fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces. Lebanese Sunnis support the rebels fighting to topple Assad, a member of a Shiite offshoot sect.

Syria-based rebels and militant Islamist groups have threatened to target Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon in retaliation for its increasingly overt role in Syria. The group's fighters played a key role in a recent regime victory in the town of Qusair near the Lebanese border, and Syrian activists say they are now aiding a regime offensive in the besieged city of Homs.