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Blast rips through southern Rweiss district of Beirut

An explosion has occurred in a suburb south of Beirut dominated by Hezbollah. The militant group's involvement in the civil war in neighboring Syria has aggravated deep-sectarian tensions in Lebanon in recent months.

At least 18 people died and over 200 sustained injuried from an explosion in southern Beirut on Thursday, according to Lebanese media and health officials.

A previously unknown group called The Brigade of Aysha, believed to be a Syrian opposition cell, later claimed responsibility for the attack. In a video posted online, three masked man speaking on behalf of the group said they were targeting Hezbollah.

"We [are sending] a message to (Hezbollah chief) Hassan Nasrallah's pigs," one of the masked men in the video said, adding that the Hezbollah chief was "an agent of Iran and Israel."

"This is the second time that we decide the time and place of the battle...And you will see more, God willing," he added.

The Lebanese military said a car bomb caused the blast, which occurred between the Rweiss district - known as a stronghold of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah - and the neighborhood Beir al-Abed. Television footage showed thick, black smoke billowing for a building still on fire after explosion. Firefighters were reportedly on the scene trying to evacuate nearby residents and others trapped in burning cars.

A car bomb ripped through the same area last month, injuring over 50 people.

Sectarian violence has worsened in Lebanon in recent months as Sunni and Shiite groups have become more vocal supporters of the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime, respectively.

The Shiite-militant group, Hezbollah, in particular, has drawn both regional and international criticism for its involvement in combat alongside the Syrian military across the border.

kms/dr (AP, AFP, Reuters)