Lebanon blasts kill three in Hezbollah stronghold

BEIRUT -- At least three people were killed Wednesday in a series of explosions in a rural stronghold of the militant group Hezbollah in eastern Lebanon, according to news reports.

The cause of the blasts in the Bekaa Valley was not immediately clear. Some media reports suggested that the explosions occurred in a weapons depot of Hezbollah, which maintains a vast but largely hidden arsenal.

There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah, which is labeled a terrorist group by the United States but is a legal and dominant force in Lebanese politics.

The official Lebanese news agency said three people were killed and three wounded in the explosions. The news agency reported three separate blasts in a mountainous area south of the regional center of Baalbek. The zone is infamous as a center of arms and drug smuggling and kidnapping-for-ransom gangs.

Some reports put the death toll as high as nine, but that remained unconfirmed. Security officials reportedly cordoned off the isolated area and prevented journalists from approaching the blast sites.

Hezbollah has justified its arsenal as essential to maintaining "resistance" against neighboring Israel. Hezbollah and Israel fought a monthlong war in 2006.

But calls for Hezbollah to disarm have increased in Lebanon since an uprising erupted in neighboring Syria against the government of President Bashar Assad. The Hezbollah leadership remains an unrepentant backer of Assad, drawing criticism from Lebanese factions that are calling for the Syrian leader to step down.

Hezbollah has denied opposition allegations that it has sent militiamen to Syria to fight on Assad's behalf. Recent public funerals of Hezbollah commanders who died while carrying out their "jihad duty" have sparked new opposition allegations of direct Hezbollah deployment with Assad's forces. But Hezbollah has not confirmed that any of its members have been killed while serving in Syria.

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-- Patrick J. McDonnell and Rima Marrouch

 
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