Syrian Conflict Continues Violent Spillover Into Lebanon

A massive car bomb explosion in one of Hezbollah's Beirut strongholds left dozens of people wounded. It's the latest and deadliest response to the militant group's moves to support the embattled Syrian government's battle against rebel forces.

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A bomb placed in a parked car caused a massive explosion in Beirut today that injured dozens of people. Later, a Syrian rebel group claimed responsibility for the blast.

NPR's Kelly McEvers was at the scene of the attack. She sent this report on how the Syrian conflict is spilling over into Lebanon.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: The group that claimed responsibility for the blast is a branch of the Free Syrian Army that calls itself Division 313. The group recently posted this video online, calling all fighters to destroy unbelievers.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

MCEVERS: The group says today's bomb targeted the Shiite militia Hezbollah for fighting alongside the Syrian Army and besieging the Syrian city of Homs.

At the scene of the bomb blast here in Beirut, Hezbollah supporters cleaned away glass and debris and any signs of injury before letting reporters in.

So, yeah, now, we're standing on top of this bombed-out car, and we can get a pretty good vantage point. There's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, at least a dozen cars pretty much burned to a crisp. There's broken glass everywhere. It's a burning smell. And there's volunteers and soldiers, people trying to cordon off the area. They are letting the media and at least to take a look and then leave.

Those volunteers are with the militant group Hezbollah. The neighborhood is the site of the group's so-called security square, where many leaders live and work. Analysts who follow Lebanon say the explosion was a message to the group that it doesn't have as tight a grip on its own security as it might have in the past.

That becomes clear as the situation on the street unravels. First, Lebanon's top cop, Minister of Interior Marwan Charbel, arrives at the scene, apparently to lead an investigation. Then his convoy is attacked by angry mobs.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

MCEVERS: It's getting pretty chaotic. They are dispersing the crowd with gunshots, dispersing the crowd with gunshots now after the minister of interior's convoy was apparently attacked, the witnesses told us.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: One guy tells us the minister is trapped inside the nearest building.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Inside the building. And he's being hit.

MCEVERS: Why they don't like him?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Because he's against Hezbollah.

MCEVERS: And what are they saying?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They want to kill him. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: The incident shows just how serious sectarian tensions are here in Lebanon. The minister is a Christian, but it's thought that he'd sympathized with a fire-brand Sunni preacher who's hated here in Shiite territory.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Through Translator) He's coming just to insult us. Of course, I'm against his visit. People are protesting his visit.

MCEVERS: The woman says she hasn't seen her son since the blast, and she's worried he's been hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: She's looking for her son since the morning. She's not finding him. And he said he's going to see his friend. He left the house, and he's still not answering his phone.

MCEVERS: A few blocks away, a hospital official says more than 50 people were injured by the blast, most of them with just cuts from glass and shrapnel. Three people were seriously hurt, he says. No one was killed. But Syrian rebels say that if any Hezbollah figure had been killed, the group would conceal it. Either way, the Sunni-led rebels vowed to fight the Shiite-led Hezbollah militants wherever they are. Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut.

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