At least four people were killed and another 18 were wounded by the explosion of a car bomb, presumably driven by a suicide attacker, near a school in the city of Hermel in northeast Lebanon, according to officials cited on Lebanese state television.

According to national news agency ANN, the explosion occurred next to the al-Mabarrat (Charity) school at the intersection with the main street of the city, territory of the Shi'ite group Hezbollah.

The directors of the school, which is also an orphanage, have given assurances that all the children are safe and sound.

The interior minister who is stepping down, Marwan Charbel, said on Lebanese television that preliminary reports indicate that this was a suicide attack.

He also said that this kind of aggression will never stop nor will the terrorists be done away with as long as the crisis in neighboring Syria lasts, though the number of victims can be limited.

Al-Manar television, the voice of Hezbollah, which aired live images from the scene of the attack, said that the vehicle used was an SUV and that the suicide attacker blew it up near a gas station.

The huge fire shown on television broke out after the explosion, and emergency management teams were seen trying to rescue those in danger.

In a first reaction, outgoing Prime Minister Najib Mikati slammed the attack: "Hermel is once more the target of terrorists. We renew our call for unity to protect our country." EFE