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Mysterious Lebanon blast kills Palestinian fighters, Israel denies involvement

Israel denied it was behind the mysterious blast that killed five members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command in Lebanon's Bekka Valley region.
Residents stand on their balcony at the Wavel Palestinian refugee camp (also known as the Jalil camp) in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, on April 24, 2020, after cases of infection by the novel coronavirus were detected there. - The residents of the Wavel camp were tested after a member of a household, a Palestinian refugee from Syria, was admitted to the state-run Rafic Hariri hospital in the capital Beirut for demonstrating COVID-19 symptoms. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

Several members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) were reportedly killed in a mysterious blast early Wednesday morning at the group's base in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon near the Syrian border. 

The Associated Press quoted PFLP-GC official Anwar Raja as claiming that an Israeli strike hit the group's positions in the Lebanese town of Qusaya. According to the report, five people were killed and 10 others were wounded, including two who are now in critical condition. 

Al Jazeera reported that there are conflicting reports about the incident from Lebanese and Palestinian sources, which claimed the blast stemmed from an old rocket going off in an arms depot or landmines exploded while being moved.

Another PFLP-GC official named Abu Wael Issam told The Associated Press that his group will retaliate “at the suitable time,” adding that the strike would not deter the PFLP-GC from “escalating the fight against the Israeli enemy.”

According to Haaretz, unnamed Israeli officials denied that Jerusalem was involved in the blast. Israel has not responded officially to the incident, and neither have the Lebanese army or Hezbollah. One Israeli official denied involvement to The Associated Press. 

The Palestinian news agency Safa, which is affiliated with Hamas, reported that five PFLP-GC members were killed early Wednesday morning in an Israeli airstrike on one of their sites in Qusaya, citing an official from the group named Badr Ahmed Jibreel. The official reportedly stated that several others were injured in addition to material damages to the location. 

Syria claimed earlier this week that Israeli jets carried out missile strikes on targets in and near Damascus just before midnight on Sunday, a first such alleged attack since Syria was readmitted into the fold of the Arab League on May 7. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said no casualties were recorded in the attack targeting Hezbollah positions. 

Israel rarely attacks targets in Lebanon. Its last air raids took place on April 7, when Israeli jets targeted positions of the Palestinian group Hamas in retaliation for the group firing dozens of rockets at Israel a day earlier. Five rockets fired from Lebanon reached Israel’s airspace, while 25 others were intercepted by Israel’s anti-missile defense system. 

The PFLP-GC is a Lebanon-based Palestinian group that split from Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1968. It was responsible for several deadly terror attacks in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s. In May 1970, the group attacked an Israeli school bus in the north of the country, killing 12 civilians including nine children. After the 1980s, the group became less active but still collaborated with Hezbollah. In 2011, with the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, it fought alongside the Assad government's forces.

Last week, Israeli Military Intelligence chief Aharon Haliva said at a press conference that Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah was “close to making a mistake that could plunge the region into a big war.” A few days later, the IDF dropped flyers in southern Lebanon warning civilians against border incursions. Reacting to Haliva’s statement, Nasrallah said Israeli leaders should “be careful and not make wrong calculations.”

Last Sunday, Hezbollah staged war games near the border with Israel, with 200 fighters showcasing its growing military capabilities and its heavy arsenal, including a new anti-drone weapon.

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