UPDATE 3-Suicide bomb attack hits passenger van in south Beirut

Mon Feb 3, 2014 2:26pm EST

Related Topics

* Lebanon grappling with spillover of Syrian civil war

* Previous bombings have targeted mostly pro-Hezbollah areas (Revises casualty toll down, adds interior minister, detail)

By Laila Bassam

BEIRUT, Feb 3 (Reuters) - A suicide bomber blew himself up in a passenger van in a southern suburb of Lebanon's capital Beirut on Monday as the country continued to struggle with the fallout from the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

At least two people were wounded in the blast, including the driver and a woman, but no one was killed apart from the bomber, the health minister said. A security source had earlier said one other person had been killed.

Lebanese television footage showed the gutted chassis of a vehicle with no roof. Smoke rose in the air and debris lay on a street. Body parts, including a head, lay on the road.

"There was glass everywhere. We saw a head. Then the legs landed near the station," a man working at a petrol station near the site of the blast said.

The explosion occurred in a van that was taking passengers along the highway in Choueifat, a district of south Beirut, to a suburban area where the Shi'ite Muslim political and militant movement Hezbollah has a heavy presence.

Hezbollah has sent fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, against the majority Sunni Muslim rebels.

Lebanese and Syrian Sunni militants supportive of the Syrian uprising have targeted Hezbollah areas, including with a bomb attack on Sunday in the northern Shi'ite town of Hermel.

Beirut's southern suburbs have been hit by four car bombs since July. It appeared that Monday's suicide bomber had detonated his explosives belt prematurely.

Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told Reuters that the van's driver - who survived the blast but was seriously injured - said the bomber was a young man who blew himself up when the driver confronted him because he thought he looked suspicious.

Lebanon is reeling from Syria's civil war, which has killed over 100,000 people and turned increasingly sectarian, adding tensions to the smaller country's own communal divisions.

Four car bombs have exploded in Hezbollah's south Beirut strongholds since July. A pair of suicide bombings at the Iranian embassy killed at least 25 people, including an Iranian diplomat, in November.

"The situation in Lebanon has become connected with the situation in Syria, and the explosions will not end in Lebanon before the war in Syria ends," Charbel said. (Writing by Alexander Dziadosz and Oliver Holmes; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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