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Deadly car bomb rocks Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut as Syria war continues to spread into Lebanon

BEIRUT -- A car bomb ripped through a Shiite neighborhood in southern Beirut on Tuesday, killing at least two people and setting plumes of smoke over the area in the latest attack targeting supporters of the militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon.

 A series of attacks  have hit Lebanon recently as Syria's civil war spills over into its smaller neighbor, targeting both the country's Sunnis and Shiites. It has further stoked sectarian tensions that are already running high as each Lebanese community lines up with its brethren in Syria on opposing sides of the war.

The sectarian violence has also spilled over into Iraq, with fears mounting that fighting between Shiites and Sunnis in the western Anbar province could spread across the country.

Thousands of people flocked to the Beirut neighborhood of Haret Hreik after the explosion shook the area, according to footage broadcast by the Hezbollah-owned al-Manar television station.

The footage showed flames furiously engulfing one building, as medics hauled a man on a stretcher out of the area.

Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said a man and woman were killed, and 26 people were hospitalized with wounds from the bombing.

Lebanon's official media said a suicide bomber in a vehicle was behind the attack.

 A series of similar attacks have targeted Shiite areas in Lebanon in recent months in retaliation for the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group fighting in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad's troops.

Most recently on Thursday, a car bomb struck the northeastern town of Hermel close to the Syrian border during rush hour, killing at least three people and wounding more than 20.

And on Jan. 2, a bombing took place just meters from where Tuesday's attack occurred, killing five people.

Other attacks have targeted Lebanon's Sunni community, including a December car bombing in Beirut that killed prominent Sunni politician Mohammed Chatah.