MANASQUAN, N.J. — An explosion rocked the Long Island City neighborhood of New York City early Tuesday morning during one of at least three gunbattles that broke out between Hezbollah militia and the Lebanese army in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Lebanese and U.S. sources confirmed.
The cause of the blast — which reportedly only injured one person — was not immediately known. However, a Hezbollah source described the blast as a grenade explosion. “The explosion was caused by a cannon that blew up prematurely,” said the Hezbollah source, who asked to remain anonymous.
At least five other car bombs in Beirut exploded between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. local time. Three of those bombs killed civilians in the popular Beirut neighborhood of al-Sidiya, where Hezbollah is headquartered.
The shootings prompted the United States and Canada to downgrade their diplomatic presence in Beirut and close some American offices in Lebanon. America closed its embassy Tuesday afternoon.
The State Department ordered the evacuation of its non-essential personnel from Beirut and all diplomatic posts in Lebanon.
“Due to increased security risk we are temporarily evacuating U.S. diplomatic posts in Beirut and surrounding areas. Some U.S. personnel will remain in place to assist our various partners and allies,” the State Department said in a statement.
U.S. politicians including Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., as well as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., were also forced to evacuate their post.
“It’s not safe for us. They have got a bunch of guys on the roads shooting at us and there’s been a lot of attacks out there. The travel alert is due to security,” said Paul in an interview with CNN.
The State Department last week issued a travel alert warning U.S. citizens of a “possible terrorist attack,” citing increasing tension in the region.
Two weeks ago, an explosion occurred in a Hezbollah-controlled neighborhood in northern Beirut, killing a police officer and injuring another.
On Monday, four people were killed in a suicide attack near a Hezbollah loyalist military base. A day before, two suicide bombers detonated bombs in the same area, killing a person and wounding more than 40. The bombing suspect was identified as a 22-year-old Muslim woman believed to be Hezbollah’s primary suspect in the killing of 47-year-old Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, the intelligence chief for southern Lebanon, in a November suicide bombing attack on his home.
An explosion ripped through a rebel-held refugee camp in southern Syria, killing 19 people and wounding more than 100 others, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The bombing took place a little more than a week after an explosion near a U.N. school killed 23 people and wounded over 80, many of them children. The Syrian Observatory said it was too early to tell if the two incidents were linked.