By BASSEM MROUE and ZEINA KARAMAssociated Press
BEIRUT (AP) - A roadside bomb struck a jeep carrying members of the Shiite militant Hezbollah group near Lebanon's border with Syria on Tuesday, wounding at least two people, a police official said.
The official said the vehicle appeared to have been part of a Hezbollah convoy heading to Syria and that the two casualties were transported in ambulances affiliated with the group to a hospital in Beirut. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press, said it was not immediately clear whether the bombing was an assassination attempt.
Lebanon, long troubled by Syria's civil war and its potential to overwhelm its smaller neighbor, has been on edge since a powerful car bomb last Tuesday in a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs wounded 53 people. To many in Lebanon, that blast confirmed fears that the Iranian-backed group, a staunch ally of the Assad regime, would face retaliation for its now overt role fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's troops inside Syria.
As Hezbollah's hand in the Syrian conflict has become public, Lebanon has seen a spike in Sunni-Shiite tensions that has sparked gun battles in several cities around the country. Many Lebanese Sunnis support the overwhelmingly Sunni uprising against Assad in Syria, while Shiites generally back Hezbollah and the regime.
Tuesday's roadside blast struck the jeep as it was driving on the main road in Majdal Anjar leading from Lebanon to the Syrian capital, and about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from the Masnaa border crossing. The road is frequently used by Hezbollah security officials and other Lebanese officials headed to the Syrian capital.
The state-run National News Agency identified the wounded men as Hussein Ali Bdeir and Fadi Abdul Karim. Local media reports said the two may have been bodyguards for a Hezbollah official traveling in the convoy.
Lebanese security officials said the bomb appeared to have been detonated remotely. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Hezbollah's Al Manar TV did not report the explosion and a Hezbollah official said the group had no information on the blast.
The group's fighters played a key role in a recent victory by Assad's forces to retake control of the strategic Syrian town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, where rebels held sway for more than a year. Syrian activists say Hezbollah fighters are now aiding a regime offensive in the besieged city of Homs.
Attacks that target Hezbollah, such as last week's car bombing in the heart of the group's bastion of support, considerably raise the stakes in Lebanon and suggest that Syria's civil war is beginning to consume Lebanon.
Inside Syria, pro-government gunmen killed seven members of a local Syrian reconciliation group near the central city of Homs, as troops shot dead nine people including a child at a checkpoint in a suburb of the capital, activists said.
The killings coincide with an offensive by Assad's troops in Damascus and its surrounding suburbs, as well as in the strategic province surrounding Homs.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven men, including two retired army officers, were Sunnis working to convince gunmen to drop their weapons and return to normal life. They were killed Monday in the village of Hajar Abyad, where residents are known to be regime supporters, it said.
Assad's troops have captured several nearby rebel-held areas in recent weeks including the towns of Qusair and Talkalkh near the border with Lebanon. Late last month, they launched an attack to try to capture rebel-held areas of Homs, Syria's third largest city.
They have also made headway against fighter brigades on the edge of Damascus and eastern suburbs.
The uprising against Assad's rule began in March 2011 and has deteriorated into an insurgency with growing sectarian overtones. The rebels have been assisted by foreign fighters, while government forces have been bolstered by Hezbollah guerrillas and Shiite fighters from Iraq.
In the Damascus suburb of Qarah, troops shot dead nine people including a child at an army checkpoint in the area, the Observatory said.
It was not clear whether those killed were fighters or civilians. An amateur video showed seven dead men, some of them with beards, and a boy with a bloodied face. The dead appeared to have suffered bullet wounds, some to the head.
"These are Bashar's crimes during Ramadan," a man could be heard saying in the video referring to the Muslim holy month that began last week.
The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events depicted.
The Observatory also reported fighting in the town of Qahtaniyeh on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said regime forces were attacking rebels in the town.
More than 93,000 have been killed and millions uprooted from their homes in the conflict.
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