Bomb shakes Lebanon Hezbollah bastion
A car bomb explosion, likely a suicide attack, killed at least three people on Thursday in downtown Hermel, a stronghold of Lebanon's Hezbollah near the border with Syria, officials said.
The blast, which went off in front of the main government administration building in Hermel, was the first to hit the Lebanese town since the conflict in Syria erupted in March 2011, a security official said.
A medical official said at least three people were killed and 25 wounded in the town located only about 10 kilometres (six miles) from the Syrian border.
The bombing came amid tensions in Lebanon mainly over the war in neighbouring Syria, where the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah has been involved in fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
It also came as the trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members accused of murdering former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 got underway at a UN-backed court in the Netherlands on Thursday.
"The attack took place at 8:55 am (0655 GMT), just as people were going to work," the security official said on condition of anonymity.
Speaking to Hezbollah's television channel, Al-Manar, Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said a suicide bomber was likely to have carried out the attack.
"We have no confirmation yet, but we should know the truth in the next hour. Given the human remains in the car and next to it, it seems like a suicide attack, but we will not rush to judgement," said Charbel.
Witnesses said the attack, which damaged buildings around Hermel's main square, shocked residents in the middle of the town, a bustling commercial, residential and administrative area.
"The explosion was huge. People are really scared and upset. It took place just as people were on their way to work and to go about their daily business in the middle of town," said Ali Shamas, the headmaster of a Hermel college.
"There was a lot of smoke rising from the scene."
Shamas also said the security forces and army troops deployed in the square shortly after the attack.
Though Thursday's was the first attack of its kind, the town has been hit in recent months by mortar attacks related to the war in neighbouring Syria.
Hezbollah has since last May been openly involved in Syria's war, sending in elite fighters to support forces loyal to President Assad.
Until 2005, Lebanon had been dominated politically and militarily by Syria for 30 years.
It is still sharply divided into pro- and anti-Damascus camps, and the Syrian conflict war has compounded Lebanon's sectarian and political divisions.
While Lebanon has suffered a spike in violence ever since the war in Syria broke out, the frequency of attacks has risen in recent weeks.
In November, 25 people were killed in a twin suicide attack targeting the Iranian embassy in southern Beirut, also a Hezbollah bastion.
Then in late December, eight people were killed in a car bomb attack targeting a former Lebanese minister opposed to Assad.
And on January 2, a suicide blast tore through southern Beirut, killing five people.