By TIM STICKINGS FOR MAILONLINE
Lebanon was hit by yet another explosion today as a column of smoke erupted over a suspected Hezbollah arms depot with several people feared injured.
Hezbollah operatives surrounded the blast site after a fire broke out in the village of Ain Qana, 30 miles south of Beirut which was devastated by last month’s port disaster.
Security sources said today’s blast was caused by a ‘technical error’ and had caused a number of injuries, although Hezbollah officials have not confirmed any casualties.
The Iran-backed group is heavily armed but its political wing has been a major player in Lebanese governments in recent years, and efforts to recover from the Beirut blast have been hampered by Hezbollah’s insistence on holding onto key ministries.
A witness near the village today said they felt the ground shake, while footage on Lebanese TV showed men walking over scorched ground littered with debris.
Damage was shown in an adjacent house where the floor was covered in glass and what appeared to be a pool of blood, with a fire still burning at the blast site.
One Hezbollah official said the nature of the blast was not yet clear while a Lebanese security official said the explosion had happened at an arms depot.
A military source said preliminary information showed the blast happened at a ‘Hezbollah center containing munitions’ on the outskirts of the village.
Residents said ambulances had carried away several injured people, while Lebanon’s National News Agency reported limited material damage.
NNA said the explosion coincided with intense Israeli overflights ‘that did not leave the skies’ over the area since Tuesday morning.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a month-long war in 2006, since when the Iran-backed group is thought to have amassed tens of thousands of rockets and missiles.
The Israeli military declined to comment on today’s blast.
Last week the US ramped up the pressure on Europe to ban Hezbollah altogether by claiming that the group had stores of explosives in Greece, Italy and Spain.
The alleged stash of weapons included supplies of ammonium nitrate, the chemical blame for the disaster in Beirut.
But France, the former colonial power in Lebanon which is leading reconstruction efforts in the country, said there was ‘nothing tangible to confirm such an allegation’.
France is urging reform after the blast which was widely blamed on corruption and incompetence among Lebanon’s ruling class.
The government resigned in the wake of the disaster, which killed nearly 200 people, injured 6,500 others and destroyed huge swathes of the port city.
A stash of ammonium nitrate that had been lying unsecured in a warehouse was blamed for the explosion although it is still not clear what caused it to ignite.
The blast has plunged the country into its worst crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
Beirut has since been hit by further fires, including one which damaged a landmark shopping center designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.
Lebanese authorities have rejected calls for a foreign probe into the blast, favoring a local investigation that has so far led to the arrest of 25 people.
Efforts to form a new government have proved fruitless so far – with president Michel Aoun warning the country could be going to ‘hell’ if no new ministry takes shape.
The head of state criticized Hezbollah and its fellow Shi’ite movement Amal for insisting they should hold on to the finance ministry in any new government.
Hezbollah is treated as a terrorist group by Washington, but France and the EU distinguish between its armed and elected wings.
The US rejects this distinction, warning that weapons bought by Iran from China and Russia could scupper Macron’s efforts at reform in Lebanon.