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Lebanese Army attributes south #Lebanon blast to "land mine" // #Hezbollah #Iran #Israel

November 24, 2011 02:10 AM
By Patrick Galey, Mohammad Zaatari

The Daily Star

BEIRUT/SIDDIQIN, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army Wednesday attributed a mysterious explosion in southern woodland to a mine or cluster bomb, after speculation the blast had occurred at a Hezbollah arms storage facility.

A statement by the army said that an explosion close to the southern village of Siddiqin late Tuesday had been investigated and was the result of a combusting land mine or cluster bomb left over from Israel’s 2006 assault.

“At 9:45 p.m. Tuesday an explosion was heard in a forested area on the outskirts of Siddiqin,” the statement said. “After the explosion a unit from the Lebanese Army visited the area and undertook a search operation all night long until Wednesday noon.

“However, the army did not find any remnants and the explosion did not cause any visible damage. Probably, what happened was a result of a mine or cluster bomb possibly dropped by Israel [in 2006] exploding.”

A security source told The Daily Star earlier Wednesday the explosion had occurred at an arms depot, when people were working inside. An eyewitness said a car had hurriedly left the blast site, possibly carrying injured individuals.

The exact cause of the blast has proven difficult to independently verify, following the deployment by Hezbollah members in the village, who restricted some movement of local media.

The party, which enjoys widespread support throughout the area, denied any involvement in Tuesday’s explosion.

“Whatever was mentioned within the media regarding an explosion on the outskirts of Siddiqin, and that it is related to an arms depot of Hezbollah is not true at all,” a statement from Hezbollah’s press office said.

Calm returned Wednesday to the village, situated near the southern coastal city of Tyre, even as gossip on the blast was rife.

Most residents testified that they hadn’t heard an explosion but a local man, Hajj Ali Fakih, said he had heard a “huge” blast come from a patch of woodland known locally as Al-Jabal al-Kabir, or Big Mountain.

Hezbollah operatives carrying high-tech communications equipment spread throughout the village and accosted The Daily Star, asking why its reporter was making inquiries related to the blast.

The army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon sent patrols to Siddiqin, although the peacekeeping organization said that it had received no official word on the explosion.

“Following today’s media reports, we were in close contact with the Lebanese Army and until now we have not information to confirm that there was an explosion,” UNIFIL deputy spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told The Daily Star.

“We have 350 patrols a day and this is part of our area of operations so we do have troops there on the ground. We have no investigation at the moment.”

Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, quoting an American blogger who had contacted an Israeli official with “considerable military experience,” reported that the blast at Siddiqin had been caused by an Israeli sabotage on a Hezbollah arms facility.

The blast was the latest in a series of suspect explosions to have occurred in south Lebanon during recent years.

In September 2010, a suspected arms depot blew up in the town of Shehabiyyeh. Hezbollah denied there had been weapons at the blast site, but Israel released a video taken by a surveillance drone purporting to show men removing rockets from the area in the wake of the explosion.

In 2009, twin blasts in Khirbet Silim and Tayr Filsay injured several people. Hezbollah claimed the former had been caused by Israeli shells that had been stored in the town in coordination with the Lebanese Army.

Israel routinely alleges Hezbollah is guilty of maintaining a significant arsenal south of the Litani River, in contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 24, 2011, on page 2.

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