Car bomb explodes in eastern Lebanon

The explosion, which took place near a petrol station, caused several deaths, according to initial reports

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A suicide bomber driving a vehicle blew himself up in the Lebanese town of Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold, killing at least five people on Saturday, the interior ministry said.

Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister, Marwan Charbel, said the suicide bomber was driving a Grand Cherokee and blew himself up at a gas station.

Television footage showed a major blaze in the area of the explosion.

The state news agency said the site of the explosion is near a school and a building housing a charity connected to a prominent cleric in the Shiite-dominated town.

The blast was the second explosion in the town of Hermel in less than three weeks.

Sunni militant groups have claimed responsibility for attacks on Shiite parts of Lebanon in retaliation for the Shiite Hezbollah group sending its fighters into Syria’s civil war.

Charbel told Reuters in separate statements that the situation in Lebanon was “unstable and getting worse every day.”

“This matter is very, very dangerous,” he said. “It is bigger than the security apparatus.”

Suicide bombers often use stolen vehicles, and Charbel said up to 400 cars had been stolen in Lebanon in the last six months.

“This is a strange path for Lebanese, because most of the explosions we see are carried out by Lebanese,” he said.

Shortly after the explosion in Hermel, a bomb went off near an Al Manar office in the Beirut neighborhood of Ouzai, a security source said. It was not clear whether the Hezbollah-run television station had been targeted or whether anyone was hurt.

Hezbollah-run areas are frequently hit by bomb and rocket attacks claimed by Sunni militants. Four car bombs have exploded in Hezbollah’s stronghold of south Beirut since July. A pair of suicide bombings at the Iranian embassy in November killed at least 25 people including an Iranian diplomat.

Qassim Kassir, a Lebanese analyst close to Hezbollah, said explosions targeting Hezbollah’s areas in Lebanon came after a recent statement by Syria’s al-Nusra Front urging Muslim Sunnis to abandon areas where the Shiites live.

“No Hezbollah member has been killed in all these previous bombings. All the casualties were civilians and this shows that those responsible don’t have any specific target other than the arbitrary killing of civilians.”

He added that suicide bombers obtain vehicles from a lawless area on the border between Syrian and Lebanon.

Hezbollah has sent fighters and advisers to aid President Bashar al-Assad, a member of Syria’s Alawite minority, which is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. Both Hezbollah and Assad are supported by Shi’ite-ruled Iran.

Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and the steady flow of Lebanese Sunnis joining the anti-Assad rebels have both fuelled sectarian strife in Lebanon, which has taken in more than 900,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war.