A pair of rockets slammed into a car dealership and a residential building in strongholds of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia in southern Beirut on Sunday, wounding four people and raising fears that Syria’s civil war is increasingly moving to Lebanon.
Lebanon’s sectarian divide mirrors that of Syria, and Lebanese armed factions have taken sides in their neighbour’s civil war.
There was no claim of responsibility for Sunday’s attack. However, a Syrian rebel commander threatened earlier this week to strike against Hezbollah strongholds in retaliation for the militia’s military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group, while most of the rebels are Sunnis.
Street fighting between rival Lebanese groups has been relatively common since the end of the country’s 15-year civil war in 1990, but rocket or artillery attacks on Beirut neighborhoods are rare.
The rockets struck hours after Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, vowed to help propel Mr. Assad to victory in Syria’s civil war 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 and damaging two cars, according to Lebanese security officials and witnesses.
Another rocket hit the second floor of an apartment building in the Chiyah district, about two kilometres away. It damaged the facade and a door leading to a living room, but no one was wounded.
A security official said rocket launchers were found in 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.
Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Aqidi, commander of the Syrian rebels’ Military Council in Aleppo, appeared in a video this 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, in reference to Hezbollah’s leader.
“We will strike at your strongholds in Dahiyeh, God willing,” he said, using the Lebanese name for Hezbollah’s power center in southern Beirut. The video was still online on Youtube on Sunday.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel blamed “saboteurs” and said- “We hope what is happening in Syria does not move to Lebanon.”
Mr. Nasrallah’s speech on Saturday offered the clearest public confirmation yet that the militia is directly involved in Syria’s war. Mr. Nasrallah’s remarks were also the first since Hezbollah fighters have pushed to the front lines of Qusair.
In his televised address, he said Hezbollah members are fighting in Syria against Islamic radicals who pose a danger to Lebanon, and pledged that his group will not allow Syrian militants to control areas along the Lebanese border. He pledged that Hezbollah will turn the tide of the conflict in Mr. Assad’s favor, and stay as long as necessary to do so.
“We will continue this road until the end, we will take the responsibility and we will make all the sacrifices,” he said. “We will be victorious.”
Lebanese Sunnis sympathetic to the Syrian opposition have also been fighting in Syria alongside the rebels. Mr. Nasrallah urged both sides to fight for their side in Syria “and leave Lebanon out of it.”
The fighting next door has repeatedly spilled over the border. For the past week, Mr. Assad’s opponents and supporters have been clashing in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, using mortars, grenades and machine guns to attack densely populated areas.
Syria’s main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, slammed Mr. Nasrallah’s speech as an “an attempt to pit the Lebanese people against their Syrian brothers and sisters who have revolted against the brutal dictator.”
In a statement on Sunday, it said his speech “has the potential for serious ramifications in the region.”
“It explicitly declares Iranian interests as superior to the basic, inherent rights of people across the region,” the statement said.