Israel-Lebanon border tensions after explosion

Image copyright EPA Image caption Israeli and UN blue flags can be seen flying in the foreground of this video of the blast

An explosion inside a Hamas ammunition warehouse in southern Lebanon has caused casualties, reports say.

It is unclear what caused the blast and the Lebanese army said it had not heard an explosion.

“Palestinian sources said there were fatalities and there is information about those being treated in hospital,” the army said in a statement.

Tensions are high along the Israel-Lebanon border amid conflicting claims over the disappearance of three Israelis.

In 2015, an explosion near the Israeli border killed six people, including two Israeli soldiers.

And last year there was an Israel-Lebanon border flare-up when an Israeli air strike killed 16 Lebanese military personnel.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Smoke rising from the incident as firefighters inspect the aftermath

“Due to the proximity of the surroundings, there were casualties that could be evacuated,” said army spokesman Maj Gen Joseph Martin.

Israel Radio said the army had completed an air and ground sweep of the area, and that Hezbollah guerrillas would be in no position to use heavy weapons if they had already triggered any explosion.

A neighbour to the ammunition warehouse, Rajab Al-Alouni, told Reuters news agency he had been preparing the shop’s spring stock for the winter season.

“All our stocks were in stock so we had nothing to worry about,” he said.

Map of the Middle East showing the location of the ammunition warehouse

The military reported several rounds of fire from Israeli aircraft at Gaza.

Israeli media have reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to send his minister in charge of the committee investigating the disappearance of the three Israeli settlers.

Naftali Bennett, the minister, is scheduled to meet President Michel Aoun to discuss the issue.

Lebanon’s private telecom company Digit has suspended all its services to Israel, Press TV reports.

According to Israeli media, the Hamas movement has no presence in southern Lebanon, but is based north of the capital Beirut.

Previous strikes on the Israeli border have involved Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters. The Druze and Christian communities in northern Lebanon, as well as its Palestinian refugee camps, have been particularly concerned about the escalation.

Last week, the new leaders of the Maronite church in Lebanon called for a US-led strike on Iran.

Lebanon’s president called for immediate Israeli restraint while his Prime Minister Walid al-Moualem was quoted as saying he hoped Israel would not provoke a “bigger crisis” with Lebanon.

In January, the deadliest outbreak of violence on the Israel-Lebanon border in decades was when Israel fired tank shells into a Lebanese border area.

According to Israeli media, Israel is considering a “partition” of Lebanon, a concept that was previously floated but later dropped by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004.

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