BEIRUT (AP) — A massive fire broke out Sunday in a warehouse where fuel and gas canisters were stored along the border between Lebanon and Syria, injuring seven people and causing loud explosions, the Lebanese Red Cross and army said.
The fire raged in a warehouse in the border area of al-Qasr, where the line between the two countries is highly permeable. The Lebanese army said the explosions occurred away from one of its checkpoints and that none of its members were injured.
It was not immediately clear what caused the fire and explosions. Smuggling of fuel and diesel is rampant between Lebanon and Syria — many suspect the warehouse was used to store contraband, and Lebanon’s LBC TV said the warehouse was used by smugglers. Both countries are going through crippling economic conditions and smuggling, which is common along the shared border, has increased in recent months.
In its statement, the Lebanese army said the warehouse was owned by a Lebanese family, but didn’t say whether it was used for smuggling fuel.
The explosion came at a time of increased tension in the region on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. killing of an Iranian general in Iraq, who was also a major ally of the Lebanese Hezbollah group.
Sunday’s fire started while Israeli jets were flying low over Lebanon and as the head of Hezbollah was delivering a speech to commemorate the Iranian general. The jets caused confusion over the source of the explosion. Israeli jets regularly violate Lebanese airspace and have often struck inside Syria from Lebanese territory.