BEIRUT (AFP) – Three people were killed in a mysterious blast in Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut, security officials said on Sunday, including two members of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.
“The death toll from Saturday night’s explosion has risen to three, after one of the wounded died of his injuries,” a Lebanese security official said.
Earlier on Sunday, a Hamas spokesman told Al-Arabiya television that the Beirut explosion had killed two members of his movement and wounded three people.
“The explosion in the southern suburbs resulted in the martyrdom of two members of Hamas and wounded three other people,” the spokesman, Ayman Taha, said on the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based station.
He added that “the circumstances of the explosion are unclear and it is too early to name the party” responsible.
Hamas and Hezbollah — which are both backed by Iran and Syria — are close allies and archfoes of Israel, and members of the Palestinian movement are based in the Lebanese capital.
Attacks are rare in the Beirut stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah — a militant group now part of the Lebanese government of Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri — as the group maintains tight security.
Lebanese President Michel Sleiman denounced the blast, blaming it on the “enemies” of Lebanon.
“This is a subversive act through which the enemies of the nation want to destabilise the country,” Sleiman said in a statement, in which he also instructed the security services to bring the guilty parties to justice.
The explosion came on the eve of the climax of Ashura, when Shiites commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein by forces of the Sunni caliph Yazid in 680 at the Battle of Karbala, in what is now Iraq.
Thousands of Lebanese Shiites gathered in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Sunday to mark the end of 10 days of rituals marking the Shiite holy day of Ashura.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah addressed the crowd in a speech broadcast by videolink but did not mention Saturday’s blast. However, he urged Lebanese people of all faiths to close ranks.
“We must close our ranks and unite because we now have a unity government which could lead the country toward progress,” he said.
In November, the Lebanese unity government adopted a policy statement granting Hezbollah the right to use its arms against Israel, after forming a unity government which includes the group’s political wing.
An AFP photographer said late on Saturday that the blast occurred in an alley in Harek Hreik, metres (yards) away from a community centre where Hezbollah was organising a ceremony to commemorate Ashura.
Hezbollah security forces cordoned off the area, keeping journalists at a distance, the photographer said.
Witnesses said that local Hamas official Ali Baraka has an office in the area where the blast occurred.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency said that the blast was caused by bombs placed under a car believed to belong to a Hamas member, while Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV channel said it occurred in a Hamas office.
The blast also came just hours before the first anniversary of Israel’s 22-day offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip during which some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.