An explosion in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Saturday killed at least two members of the militant Palestinian Hamas movement. Beirut’s southern suburbs are a bastion of the armed Shia Hizbollah movement and its members keep a tight rein on security in the area.

Local residents said Hizbollah immediately took control of the area, initially denying access to Lebanon’s police and security services.

The explosion, a rare event, appears to have hit a car near a Hamas office. The organisation keeps a presence in Lebanon, which houses hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, many of whom live in 12 camps throughout the country.

Although representing fundamentalist ideologies from different strands of Islam – Hizbollah is Shia and Hamas is Sunni – the two movements are united in their fight against Israel and have grown closer over recent years. Both are supported by Syria and Iran, with the latter providing crucial financial assistance.

Rocked since 2005 by assassinations and war, Lebanon has enjoyed a greater stability of late and formed a unity government last month. It had spent months without a government after elections in June in which a Saudi and US-backed coalition defeated Hizbollah and its allies.

Several Palestinian militants and Hizbollah members have been killed in Lebanon in recent years in attacks their organisations have blamed on Israel.

But Ayman Taha, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, on Sunday declined to accuse anyone of the bombing. He told Reuters the two members killed in the bombing were Basel Goma and Hassan Haddad but he refused to say what their roles were.

“We have launched an investigation and we will publish the results once completed,” Mr Taha said, adding that he had contacted exiled Hamas leaders in Lebanon and Syria.

The explosion occurred on the eve of the Ashura ceremony when Shia Muslims commemorate the death of Hussein, grandson of the prophet Mohammed, in the battle of Karbala in Iraq in the seventh century.

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