BEIRUT (AP) — A pair of rockets slammed into a car dealership and a residential building in strongholds of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia in southern Beirut on Sunday, wounding four people and raising fears that Syria’s civil war is increasingly spreading into Lebanon.
Lebanon’s sectarian divide mirrors that of Syria, and Lebanese armed factions have taken sides in their neighbor’s civil war.
There was no claim of responsibility for Sunday’s attack. However, a Syrian rebel commander threatened earlier this week to strike against Hezbollah strongholds in retaliation for the militia’s military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group, while most of the rebels are Sunnis.
Street fighting between rival Lebanese groups has been relatively common since the end of the country’s 15-year civil war in 1990, but rocket or artillery attacks on Beirut neighborhoods are rare.
The rockets struck hours after Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, vowed to help propel Assad to victory in Syria’s civil war and warned that the Syrian leader’s overthrow would give rise to extremists.
One rocket struck a car dealership in the Mar Mikhael district on the southern edge of the capital, wounding four Syrian workers, according to Lebanese security officials.
After the attack, part of the rocket’s main body was left embedded in the ground, where a Lebanese soldier measured its diameter. Two cars were badly damaged and others had windows broken by shrapnel.
Another rocket hit the second floor of an apartment building in the Chiyah district, about two kilometers (one mile) away. It damaged a living room, but no one was hurt.
Lebanese media said security forces were searching for a third unexploded rocket.
A security official said rocket launchers were found in the woods in a predominantly Christian and Druse area in suburbs southeast of Beirut. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
An ongoing battle in the Syrian town of Qusair on the Lebanese border has laid bare Hezbollah’s growing role in the Syrian conflict. The Iranian-backed militia and Syrian troops launched an offensive against the town last weekend. After dozens of Hezbollah fighters were killed in Qusair over the past week and buried in large funerals in Lebanon, Hezbollah could no longer play down its involvement.
Col. Abdul-Jabbar al-Aqidi, commander of the Syrian rebels’ Military Council in Aleppo, appeared in a video this week while apparently en route to Qusair, in which he threatened to strike in Beirut’s southern suburbs in retaliation for Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria.
“We used to say before, ‘We are coming Bashar.’ Now we say, ‘We are coming Bashar and we are coming Hassan Nasrallah,’” he said, in reference to Hezbollah’s leader.
“We will strike at your strongholds in Dahiyeh, God willing,” he said, using the Lebanese name for Hezbollah’s power center in southern Beirut. The video was still online on Youtube on Sunday.
Hezbollah lawmaker Ali Ammar said the incident targeted coexistence between the Lebanese and claimed the U.S. and Israel want to return Lebanon to the years of civil war. “They want to throw Lebanon backward into the traps of civil wars that we left behind,” he told reporters. “We will not go backward.”
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel blamed “saboteurs” and said: “We hope what is happening in Syria does not move to Lebanon.”
Nasrallah’s speech Saturday offered the clearest public confirmation yet that the militia is directly involved in Syria’s war. Nasrallah’s remarks were also the first since Hezbollah fighters have pushed to the front lines of Qusair.
In his televised address, he said Hezbollah members are fighting in Syria against Islamic radicals who pose a danger to Lebanon, and pledged that his group will not allow Syrian militants to control areas along the Lebanese border. He pledged that Hezbollah will turn the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor, and stay as long as necessary to do so.
“We will continue this road until the end, we will take the responsibility and we will make all the sacrifices,” he said. “We will be victorious.”
Lebanese Sunnis sympathetic to the Syrian opposition have also been fighting in Syria alongside the rebels. Nasrallah urged both sides to fight for their side in Syria “and leave Lebanon out of it.”
The fighting next door has repeatedly spilled over the border. For the past week, Assad’s opponents and supporters have been clashing in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, using mortars, grenades and machine guns to attack densely populated areas.
Syria’s main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, slammed Nasrallah’s speech as an “an attempt to pit the Lebanese people against their Syrian brothers and sisters who have revolted against the brutal dictator.”
In a statement Sunday, it said his speech “has the potential for serious ramifications in the region.”
“It explicitly declares Iranian interests as superior to the basic, inherent rights of people across the region,” the statement said.