A powerful explosion struck the southern Beirut stronghold of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group on Thursday, killing at least 20 people, wounding more than 200 and trapping many others inside damaged buildings, witnesses and emergency officials said.
The blast, a month after a car bomb wounded more than 50 people in the same district of the Lebanese capital, came amid sectarian tensions over the intervention of Hezbollah against rebels in Syria’s civil war.
Residents of southern Beirut say Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, was on high alert and stepped up security in the area after warnings from Syria rebels of possible retaliation for the group’s support for President Bashar Al Assad.
It was not immediately known whether the explosion targeted any Hezbollah figure but it took place in a crowded residential area. “I don’t know what happened. It’s as if we were struck by an earthquake,” one young man at the scene said, bleeding from a wound to his stomach.
Earlier, a spokesman for Lebanon’s Red Cross said 10 people were killed and another 120 were wounded. At the heart of the site, fires still raged an hour after the blast.
Many cars were damaged in the explosion and the blast sent a column of black smoke over the densely populated area. The facades of several residential buildings were damaged. Charred bodies were seen inside cars caught in the explosion.
Al Mayadeen television said some people were still trapped inside apartments at the scene, close to the Sayyed Al Shuhadaa (Martyrs) complex, where Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah often addresses his followers.