- POSTED: 16 Jan 2014 18:29
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Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said a suicide bomber was likely to have carried out the attack in the Bekaa Valley.
BAALBEK, Lebanon: A likely suicide car bomb on Thursday ripped through the main square of Hermel, a Hezbollah bastion in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, killing three people in the latest attack linked to Syria's war.
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 Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011.
It was the fifth major assault on a Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon since the Shiite movement admitted it was fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria.
Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said three people were killed and 31 wounded in the town located only about 10 kilometres from the Syrian border.
"Two of the bodies were unidentified. We don't know whether one of them was a suicide attacker," Khalil told Hezbollah's Al-Manar television channel.
The bombing came amid raging tensions in Lebanon mainly over the war in neighbouring Syria, where Hezbollah has been openly involved in the fighting for eight months.
It also came as the trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members accused of murdering Lebanese former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 got underway Thursday at a UN-backed court in the Netherlands.
"At around 8:55 am (0655 GMT) a car bomb exploded in front of the government administration building in Hermel city," the army said in a statement.
The military deployed immediately after the blast, "while a unit of military police and experts worked to inspect the site and the human remains found there".
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said a suicide bomber was likely to have carried out the attack.
"We have no confirmation yet, but... given the human remains in the car and next to it, it seems like a suicide attack, but we will not rush to judgement," Charbel told Al-Manar.
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."
Al-Manar broadcast images of the mangled remains of a vehicle, and firemen putting out the flames at the scene.
The government building in Hermel's main square houses all the town's main administrative offices as well as police and security posts.
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 thousands of fighters to support forces loyal to President Assad.
Five major attacks have struck Hezbollah bastions in southern Beirut and in eastern Lebanon since it admitted it is fighting on Assad's side.
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 has compounded Lebanon's sectarian and political divisions.
While Lebanon has suffered a spike in violence 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.