BAALBEK, Lebanon (AP) — A car bomb packed with explosives detonated near a Hezbollah base in eastern Lebanon Tuesday causing several casualties, officials said, the latest in a wave of deadly attacks that have targeted the Shiite militant group's interests in Lebanon.
However, there were conflicting reports on the source of the pre-dawn explosion and the number of casualties resulting from the blast in the remote, scarcely inhabited area was not immediately clear.
Hezbollah agents cleared the open field around the area and sealed it off for hours following the blast, making it difficult to establish what had happened.
Hours after the attack, at least four badly damaged vehicles, including the charred, twisted wreckage of an overturned jeep, lay strewn across the rocky field, where spots of blood mixed with patches of snow.
It was the first such attack against a Hezbollah outpost in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa region, following a spate of bombings that targeted Hezbollah strongholds south of the Lebanese capital.
Later Tuesday, three rockets hit just outside the northeastern region of Hermel, also a Hezbollah stronghold, without causing any damage, residents said.
The bombing appeared to be related to a series of reprisal attacks over Hezbollah's role in the civil war in neighboring Syria, where members of the group are fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's troops. It has received threats of retaliation from the largely Sunni rebels fighting to topple Assad, and Sunni extremist groups have claimed responsibility for bombings in the past few months that have killed dozens.
The Lebanese National News Agency said the perpetrator was a suicide bomber who detonated the vehicle near the village of Sbouba in the Baalbek region, about two kilometers (a mile) from a base belonging to the Iranian-backed group. The report said the explosion caused an unspecified number of casualties among Hezbollah members and civilians.
A Lebanese army statement and Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV station said the explosion was a car bomb, with Al-Manar saying the blast caused an unspecified number of casualties near a "rotation outpost" for Hezbollah fighters.
The station said a Hezbollah convoy of five cars was headed to the base when the group spotted a vehicle parked nearby and grew suspicious. They said several people were killed when they got out of their cars and the vehicle was detonated remotely.
Hezbollah has been instrumental in helping Assad's forces seize opposition-held areas in Syria, particularly in areas along the border with Lebanon and near Damascus.
The group's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has vowed to continue fighting in Syria for as long as it takes to defeat what he says are "takfiris" — radical Sunni groups — who pose a threat to Lebanon.