A strong explosion shook a Hizbullah stronghold in southern Lebanon on Tuesday, but the cause was not immediately clear.
As TV networks said the blast ripped through a “house belonging to Hizbullah,” pro-Hizbullah journalist Salem Zahran said it occurred at a depot for storing “shells from the war era,” adding that it caused no casualties.
The blast, near a gas station, occurred in the outskirts of the southern village of Ain Qana, above the port city of Sidon, sending grey smoke billowing over the village.
The Lebanese Army said an army force arrived at the explosion site immediately after the incident and has since launched an investigation.
A Hizbullah official said there were no casualties from the explosion and that no Hizbullah members were targeted. Another local Hizbullah official in Ain Qana, Ali Nazar, said the explosion destroyed a house where old mines and shells leftover from “past Israeli aggression” were being collected by a de-mining agency for disposal.
A source close to Hizbullah had earlier told Agence France Presse that the blast resulted from an “accident.”
A military source said preliminary information showed the blast happened at a “Hizbullah center containing munitions.”
Members of the group imposed a security cordon, barring journalists from reaching the area.
The National News Agency said the blast had coincided with intensive fly-overs by Israeli fighter jets and drones.
Israel violates Lebanese airspace on an almost daily basis, and its aircraft have flown particularly low over many areas in the past few days. The commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, told NNA Monday that the force has in recent days recorded a large number of air violations by the Israeli military.
He said the continuous overhead flights constitute a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and Lebanese sovereignty.
Footage broadcast by al-Jadeed station showed damage to buildings and debris scattered across a large area. The shaky footage also showed what appeared to be a minibus on fire. Other footage showed a wrecked SUV parked outside a damaged house.
There was no immediate comment from the Lebanese government. Hizbullah’s al-Manar TV channel returned to normal programming after reporting the explosion.
The Israeli military declined to comment on the blast.
The mysterious blast added to collective anxiety in a country still reeling from last month’s massive explosion in Beirut and struggling with an unprecedented economic crisis.
“Thank God that there were no human losses, but there was a lot of panic, everyone was frightened,” said a villager who identified himself by his last name, Honeina.
The explosion comes seven weeks after the massive explosion at Beirut port, the result of nearly 3,000 tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate detonating. The explosion killed nearly 200 people, injured 6,500 and damaged tens of thousands of buildings in the capital, Beirut.
It is still not clear what caused the initial fire that ignited the chemicals, and so far no one has been held accountable.