By Mustapha Ajbaili | Al Arabiya News
A car bomb rocked the southern district of the Lebanese capital Beirut on Thursday, leaving at least five people dead and more than 60 wounded, Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil told reporters.
The explosion took place in a crowded street in the Hezbollah stronghold of Beirut near a building that belongs to the militant group’s al-Manar television channel.
Al Arabiya with Agencies -
The chief of Lebanese Shiite Muslim party Hezbollah, a close Damascus ally, said on Tuesday that Syria’s friends would not let the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad fall.
“Syria has true friends in the region who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of the United States, Israel and ‘takfiri’ groups,” Hassan Nasrallah said, referring to Sunni Muslims fighting to overthrow Assad.
Reports have emerged that Hezbollah fighters were fighting with Assad forces against rebels in Shiite villages near the Lebanon border. However, Nasrallah’s comments on Tuesday were the strongest indication yet that his group was ready to get more substantially involved to rescue Assad’s government.
In his speech, Nasrallah said the Syrian opposition fighting pro-Assad forces will not be able to topple the Syrian president militarily, adding that dialogue was their only way out.
“The Syrian opposition is the one refusing dialogue. Whoever wants to resolve the Syrian crisis, a political solution is the only way,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nasrallah also said that armed rebel groups battling Assad pose a “threat” to Lebanese residents living near border towns.
“A large number of [rebels] was preparing to capture villages inhabited by Lebanese,” so it was “normal to offer every possible and necessary aid to help the Syrian army, popular committees (pro-government militia) and the Lebanese,” Nasrallah said.
“The Lebanese state is incapable of protecting Lebanese towns near the Syrian border.”
“Defending them doesn’t need a decision from anyone. We won’t leave town residents without any help.”
Accusations against Hezbollah
Hezbollah denies it has sent guerrillas to fight alongside Assad’s forces inside Syria, but has held regular funerals for fighters it said were carrying out “jihadi duties.” It says any Hezbollah fighters involved are local Shiite residents of Lebanese villages inside Syria, defending their territory.
Nasrallah said that his fighters had a duty to protect the holy Shiite shrine of Sayida Zeinab in southern Damascus.
“If the shrine is destroyed, things will get out of control,” Nasrallah said, citing the 2006 bombing of the Shiite al-Askari shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra.
Nasrallah also addressed during his Tuesday speech accusations that Iranian forces were taking part in the Syrian clashes, which have killed at least 70,000 people, according to the United Nations.
“Everyone knows there are no Iranian forces in Syria but only experts,” the Hezbollah chief said.
“What do you imagine would happen in the future if things deteriorate in a way that requires the intervention of the forces of resistance in this battle?”
Hezbollah has an arsenal that is the most powerful military force in Lebanon, stronger than the national army. Its growing involvement in the Syrian civil war is already raising tensions inside the divided country and has drawn threats from enraged Syrian rebels and militants.
A parliamentarian from Lebanon’s Future bloc criticized Nasrallah’s statements and interference in the Syrian conflict.
“Nasrallah is talking as if he was Bashar al-Assad’s chief-of-staff,” Mouin al-Merhebi told Al Arabiya news channel. “No one tasked Nasrallah with defending the towns near the border.”
“If [Nasrallah] is talking about being humanitarian, then he should fight against Assad who kills hundreds [of civilians] every day.”
“Bashar al-Assad is a criminal and a killer.”
Heavy gunfire erupted in central Beirut on Sunday after protesters tried to storm the offices of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, demanding that he quit over the assassination of a top intelligence official.
Reuters reported an official saying that security forces had fired in the air.
Witnesses said at least two protesters had fainted, apparently as a result of tear gas fired by security forces after protesters breached an outer barrier around the prime minister’s offices.
Hundreds of protesters, waving flags from the anti-Syrian opposition Future Movement – a mainly Sunni Muslim party – and Christian Lebanese Forces as well as black Islamist flags, marched on Mikati’s offices after the funeral of Wissam al-Hassan.
They accused Syria of being behind Hassan’s killing and called for Mikati to resign.
The chaotic scene in Lebanon’s capital on Sunday comes in the midst of a funeral for a top intelligence official who was killed in a massive car bombing that many blame on the regime in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s unity government has collapsed after the Hezbollah movement and its political allies resigned from the cabinet over arguments stemming from a UN probe into the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, in 2005.
There has been growing political tension in Lebanon amid signs that Hezbollah members could be indicted by the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).
Ten ministers tendered their resignations on Wednesday after reports that al-Hariri’s son Saad, the prime minister, had refused their call to convene a cabinet meeting to discuss controversial issues including the investigation by the STL.
An eleventh member, Adnan Sayyed Hussein later, stood down, automatically bringing down al-Hariri’s government.