A source from the Palestinian Hamas terror group said Saturday that a weapons cache which exploded in southern Lebanon was “for defense” purposes.
Some reports said up to 12 people were killed in the explosion on Friday night, while others denied there had been any fatalities at all. There were reports of around a dozen injuries.
The Hamas source told the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper that the blast was caused by a fire. The newspaper said prosecutors have opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the explosion.
Arms stored for the terror group exploded in the Burj Shamali refugee camp in the port city of Tyre on Friday night.
A Lebanese security official said on Friday that authorities had no exact numbers of the casualties but that there could be as many as 12 dead.
However, the Reuters news agency reported on Saturday that local media and civil defense workers on the scene, as well as a security source, denied that there had been any fatalities in the explosion.
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Initial reports said a fire had started in a diesel tanker and spread to a nearby mosque controlled by the Palestinian terror group.
The fire triggered explosions of some weapons that appeared to have been stored inside the mosque, according to the residents.
Reports said the army cordoned off the area, preventing people from entering or leaving the camp.
Video posted on social media showed prolonged explosions in the area.
Additional footage from on the ground with secondaries. pic.twitter.com/8VzigwV3no
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The fire ignited some of the weapons that appeared to have been stored inside the mosque, residents said.
The state-run National News Agency said the state prosecutor in southern Lebanon has asked security agencies and arms experts to inspect the arms storage site, adding that the site was not affiliated with the Hezbollah terror group that controls much of southern Lebanon.
Last week, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported that Hamas quietly established a Lebanon branch of its Gaza-based terror group in recent years in order to open up an additional front against Israel in future conflicts.
The branch is based in Tyre, but it is believed to have other outposts throughout the country, according to Yedioth.
The Lebanon branch’s opening salvo came during the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas last May when four rockets were launched at northern Israel from Lebanon, according to Yedioth. At the time, the IDF attributed the fire to “Palestinian factions.”
The decision to establish the Lebanon branch was made in 2014 after another Gaza war that summer, during which Hamas leaders found themselves isolated in the fight against Israel, the report said. The terror group decided that a new branch would be formed and that it would be subservient to Hamas leadership.
Training for the fighters is being provided by unnamed Iranian actors and members are currently focused on building additional homemade rockets with a range of dozens of kilometers, the report said.
The Shiite Hezbollah terror group, which controls much of southern Lebanon, is aware of the Sunni branch’s operations and has given them a green light. However, Hezbollah has veto power over the Hamas branch’s activities, according to the report.
Lebanon is home to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Many live in the 12 refugee camps that are scattered around the small Mediterranean country.
By longstanding agreement, the Lebanese army does not enter the camps, leaving security inside to Palestinian factions.