Large explosion shakes Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut

Lebanese security stand near the site where an Israeli drone was said to have crashed in a stronghold of the Lebanese Hezbollah group, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. A Hezbollah official said Sunday that an Israeli drone went down over the Lebanese capital of Beirut and another exploded in the air, amid regional tensions between Israel and Iran. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

A Hezbollah official said Sunday that an Israeli drone went down over the Lebanese capital of Beirut and another exploded in the air, amid regional tensions between Israel and Iran.

Residents of the Iranian-backed group’s stronghold in southern Beirut reported one large explosion that shook the area early Sunday, triggering a fire.

They said the nature of the blast in the Moawwad neighbourhood was not immediately clear, but said it might have been caused by an Israeli drone that went down in the area amid Israeli air activity in neighbouring Syria.

They said they heard an aircraft flying just before the blast and reported later that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group sealed off the area. The blast occurred near the militant group’s media office in the Moawwad district.

The Hezbollah official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as the person was not authorized to speak on the record to journalists. No details were immediately available.

Israeli warplanes fly over Lebanon regularly and have struck inside neighboring Syria from Lebanese airspace on numerous occasions.

A few hours earlier, late Saturday, the Israeli military attacked targets near Syria’s capital of Damascus in what it said was a successful effort to thwart an imminent Iranian drone strike on Israel, stepping up an already heightened campaign against Iranian military activity in the region.

The late-night airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces in several years of hits on Iranian targets in Syria.

Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Al Quds force, working with allied Shiite militias, had been planning to send a number of explosives-laden attack drones into Israel.

On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attack by Israeli warplanes a "major operational effort." Syrian state TV said the country’s air defences had responded to "hostile" targets over Damascus and shot down incoming missiles before they reached their targets.

In recent days, US officials have said that Israeli strikes have also hit Iranian targets in Iraq.