Two rockets hit a Shiite Muslim district of southern Beirut yesterday wounding several people, residents said, a day after the leader of Lebanese Shiite militant movement Hezbollah said his group would continue fighting in Syria until achieving victory.
It was the first attack to apparently target Hezbollah’s stronghold in the south of the Lebanese capital since the outbreak of the two-year conflict in neighboring Syria, which has sharply heightened Lebanon’s own sectarian tensions.
One rocket landed in a car sales yard next to a busy road junction in the Chiah neighborhood and the other hit an apartment several hundred meters away, wounding five people, residents said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Brigadier Selim Idris, head of Syria’s Western-backed rebel military command, told al-Arabiya Television that his forces had not carried out the attack and urged rebels to keep their conflict inside Syria.
However, another Syrian rebel, Ammar al-Wawi, told Lebanon’s LBC Television the attack was a warning to authorities in Beirut to restrain Hezbollah.
A Lebanese security source said three rocket launchers were found, one of which had misfired or failed to launch, in hills to the southeast of the Lebanese capital, about 8km from the area where the two rockets landed.
The rocket strikes came hours after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, a powerful supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said his fighters were committed to the conflict, whatever the cost.
Syria’s two-year uprising has polarized Lebanon, with Sunni Muslims supporting the rebellion against al-Assad and Shiite Hezbollah and its allies standing by the Syrian president.
Until recently, Nasrallah insisted that Hezbollah had not sent guerrillas to fight alongside al-Assad’s forces, but in his speech on Saturday he said it was fighting in Syria to defend Lebanon from radical Islamists now leading Syria’s rebellion.
Hezbollah forces and al-Assad’s troops launched a fierce assault last week aimed at driving Syrian rebels out of Qusair, a strategic town close to the Lebanese border which rebels have used as a supply route for weapons coming into the country.
Lebanese authorities, haunted by Lebanon’s own 1975-1990 civil war and torn by the same sectarian rifts as its neighbor, have sought to pursue a police of “dissociation” from the Syrian turmoil.
However, they are unable to prevent the flow into Syria of Sunni Muslim gunmen who support the rebels and Hezbollah fighters who support al-Assad, and have struggled to absorb nearly half a million refugees coming the other way to escape the fighting.
At least 25 people have been killed in Tripoli in the north of Lebanon over the past week in street fighting which has been partly triggered by the battle for Qusair across the border.
Nasrallah’s speech was condemned by former Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, who said that Hezbollah, set up by Iran in the 1980s to fight Israeli occupation forces in south Lebanon, had abandoned anti-Israeli “resistance” in favor of sectarian conflict in Syria.
“The resistance is ending by your hand and your will,” Hariri said in a statement. “The resistance announced its political and military suicide in Qusair.”