A shadowy Lebanese extremist group has claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite town that killed at least three people.
The Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon said on Twitter that the bombing in the northeast town of Hermel on Saturday was to punish the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which fights alongside forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It is the third bombing that the Nusra Front in Lebanon claimed responsibility for in the country.
The explosion happened at a gas station in Hermel, a stronghold of the Shiite movement Hezbollah , Lebanon's interior minister said as the United Nations urged Lebanon's feuding factions to refrain from getting involved in Syria's crisis.
The Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon, a group named after al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, claimed the attack on Twitter, saying it was a suicide bombing in response to Hezbollah's involvement in Syria.
"At least four people were killed and more than 15 wounded, two or three of them in critical condition," Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station.
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The United Nations Security Council issued a statement condemning the "terrorist attack" and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Council members also appealed to all Lebanese people "to preserve national unity in the face of attempts to undermine the country’s stability" and for all parties to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis.
In a separate statement the UN secretary general's spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban Ki-moon also strongly condemned the car bombing and extended his condolences to the bereaved.
"The recent escalation in acts of terrorism and violence in Lebanon is of grave concern," he said, adding that Ban called on all players, including the army and security forces, "to confront such unacceptable and indiscriminate actions and to safeguard their country's security and stability".
The explosion, which came at around 6 pm local time after nightfall, sparked a huge blaze that hindered the arrival of emergency services.
Al-Manar broadcast footage of a massive fire at the site.
Security forces later closed off the area and firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze.
The gas station is part of a charitable network set up by Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a leading Shiite cleric and Hezbollah spiritual guide who died in 2010.
In a statement on Twitter, Al-Nusra in Lebanon said it was a "second martyrdom operation against the Party of Iran (Hezbollah) stronghold in Hermel... because of the continuation of the Party of Iran's crimes against our oppressed people in our beloved Sham (Syria), and its insistence on sending more of its mercenaries to kill the Syrian people".
'Repaying the favor'
"Faced with the massacres it is carrying out, we can only repay the favor in its heartland, to push it to reconsider its calculations."
Caretaker Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati condemned the bombing as a "terrorist attack", and called for unity to "protect our homeland".
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi, speaking on satellite television channel Al-Mayadeen, said "this terrorist attack, like those before it, only benefits the Israeli enemy".
It was the second blast in less than a month to hit Hermel, in the east of the country and close to the border with war-ravaged Syria.