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News / Nation & World

Blast in east Lebanon kills 5 in base controlled by Palestinian faction, Israel denies role

By ALBERT AJI, Associated Press
Published: May 31, 2023, 8:20am

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A blast early Wednesday at a military base controlled by a Syria-backed Palestinian faction in eastern Lebanon killed five Palestinian militants and wounded 10 others, according to two Palestinian officials with the group.

The faction said an Israeli airstrike caused the blast, but that account was disputed by an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, who denied the country had any role in the incident. Israel does not typically respond to foreign reports.

In Beirut, a Lebanese military official said the explosion was the result of a blast within the base, adding that there was no airstrike. An official with a regional group allied with the Syrian government, said the explosion was the result of a “human error” that occurred when militants were handling ammunition. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Anwar Raja of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, told The Associated Press in Damascus that the Israeli strike hit positions in the eastern Lebanese town of Qusaya near the border with Syria. He said two of the wounded were in critical condition.

Another PFLP-GC official, Lebanon-based Abu Wael Issam, told the AP that his group will retaliate “at the suitable time.” He added that the strike will not deter his group from “escalating the fight against the Israeli enemy.”

The Lebanese army and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group also had no immediate official comment on the airstrike.

Raja attributed Israel’s denial to “the sensitivity of the situation in Lebanon,” a suggestion that any acknowledgement of a strike by Israel would push Hezbollah to retaliate.

It has been rare for Israel to carry out airstrikes on Lebanon in recent years.

Israel launched strikes in southern Lebanon in April, a day after militants fired nearly three dozen rockets at Israel, wounding two Syrian workers and causing some property damage. The Israeli military said at the time that it had targeted installations of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, in southern Lebanon.

The PFLP-GC has positions along the Lebanon-Syria border as well as military presence in both countries. The group had carried out attacks against Israel in the past.

The militant group became known for major attacks against Israel, including the hijacking of an El Al jetliner in 1968 and the machine gunning of another airliner at Zurich airport in 1969. In 1970, it planted a bomb on a Swissair jet that blew up on a flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv, killing all 47 passengers on aboard.

The Damascus-based group also carried out attacks against Israel from its bases in Lebanon.

During Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the PFLP-GC captured three Israeli soldiers and negotiated their release in exchange for more than 1,100 mostly Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian prisoners three years later.

One dramatic attack in 1987 was carried out by two PFLP-GC fighters who crossed from Lebanon into Israel on hang gliders and killed six Israeli soldiers. The attack was considered one of the main triggers for the first Palestinian intifada against Israel.

The group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and other Western countries.