Explosion in Hezbollah arms cache stirs panic in south Lebanon
Blast in weapons depot containing Katyusha rockets causes panic in village near Israel border, whose residents at first mistook explosion for Israeli air raid. Analyst: Explosion proves Israel's claims that Shiite group has returned to border in violation of UN Res. 1701, despite denial of UNIFIL, Lebanese army manning area
A series of explosions on Tuesday in an abandoned building near Lebanon's tense border with Israel was caused by a fire in a Hezbollah weapons depot, a Lebanese security official said.
The blasts caused no casualties, but took place on the third anniversary of the month long summer war between Israel and the Shiite group and triggered widespread panic among residents, some of whom mistook it for an Israeli air raid.
The depot in the village of Khirbet Silim, about 10 miles north of the border, was housed in an abandoned building and was likely used during the 2006 war, added the official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.
Lebanese soldiers and firefighters sealed the area off after the explosions to keep journalists away.
The Lebanese army issued a statement saying only that the area was sealed after an explosion in an abandoned building and that a joint committee from the military and UN peacekeepers was investigating.
Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon, said UNIFIL was investigating the incident and had not yet determined the cause of the explosions.
According to Israeli security sources, the Hezbollah depot contained various of types of rockets, including Katyusha rockets, which the organization was hiding. The rockets are being stored for future use against Israel. The Israeli sources further claimed that the incident is testimony to the fact that Hezbollah continues to use Lebanese villages along the border to hide weapons among the civilian population, effectively turning them into human shields.
Hezbollah officials were not immediately available for comment.
Challenge to UN Resolution 1701
According to Ynet's military anayst, Ron Ben-Yishai, the explosion in south Lebanon confirms Israel's claims that Hezbollah has reinstated its militarized activities in the area despite the explicit ban of such activities in UN Resolution 1701, issued at the end of the Second Lebanon War in August 2006.
Hezbollah committed itself not to engage in military activities in villages south of the Litani River. A UNIFIL force was deployed together with the Lebanese army in order to enforce this.
Though Hezbollah has avoided any outright armed presence in the south, UNIFIL and Lebanese army forces combed the area, finding and destroying Katyusha stockpiles. Hezbollah claims these caches were in place since before the outbreak of war in 2006.
Ben-Yishai noted that Israel has claimed since the war that Hezbollah continues to operate covertly deep within southern Lebanese villages, and not out in the open areas outside the villages, known as "nature reserves," as it had up until the war. Hezbollah's fortification efforts were intended mainly to put the brakes under the IDF if they ever were to re-enter south Lebanon, allowing the organization to fire Katryusha rockets at Israeli border towns.
However, Hezbollah's main deployment is north of the Litani.
These claims were brought from time to time to the attention of the UNIFIL officers stationed along the border, but they claimed they did not know of any fortification or rearmament efforts undertaken by Hezbollah in the area. The Lebanese army also denied such activities.
Rockets located during weekend
Lebanese security forces said Saturday that they had located two Katyusha rockets in the southern district of Nabatiye. The rockets were not ready to launch.
According to Lebanese media reports, the 107mm rockets - shorter-range rockets capable of reaching a 5-mile radius – were found at the side of the road by a patrol around 9am (GMT).
Military engineers were called to the scene and supervised the removal of the rockets, which were transferred to a military base.
Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah fought a fierce but inconclusive war in 2006.
A UN-brokered cease-fire that ended the fighting put the zone between the border with Israel and the Litani River to the north under control of Lebanese troops and UN peacekeepers.
Israel's northern border has been quiet in the past few months, after several Katyusha rockets have been fired from southern Lebanon earlier in 2009. The last incident was in February. The rocket landed in the Western Galilee, injuring three people.
January saw several rockets fired at Israel, in what Lebanon claimed was retaliation to the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The Associated Press contributed to this report