Anti-Hezbollah slogans were chanted on Sunday as a former Lebanese minister killed in a car bomb explosion was laid to rest, Reuters reports.
Mohammed Shatah, a former minister and an adviser to Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, was assassinated in a car bomb explosion in downtown Beirut on Friday morning. Five other people were killed and at least 15 were wounded in the attack.
Friday’s attack on Shatah, a Sunni who was a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and his Lebanese ally Hezbollah, has once again stoked sectarian enmities exacerbated by the spillover of Syria’s conflict.
“There is no God but God and Hezbollah is the enemy of God,” mourners chanted as Shatah’s coffin – draped in green and gold cloth – was carried to a central Beirut mosque, reported Reuters.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Hezbollah has been blamed. The group has denied it was responsible for the assassination, saying it was “heinous” and urging the Lebanese people to be “rational.”
Shatah’s movement and other Sunni groups support the largely Sunni Muslim rebel movement fighting to topple Assad. Hezbollah, backed by Iran, has sent its fighters to help Assad. The group has sustained heavy losses in the Syrian war and has reportedly been paying the families of its fighters killed in Syria to keep quiet about the circumstances surrounding their relatives’ deaths.
Hezbollah’s decision to intervene in Syria has added fuel to the fire of the sectarian tensions in Lebanon, which is bitterly divided over the war.
Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut was hit by two car bombings this summer, one of which killed 27 people. Bombings in the mainly Sunni northern city of Tripoli in late August also killed 45 people, and ongoing fighting in that city between rival militias supporting different sides in the Syrian civil war have killed scores more.
More recently, two suicide bombers killed 25 people in an attack on Iran’s Beirut embassy.
Addressing the cheering crowd at Shatah’s funeral, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora made what mourners took to be a reference to a coming political showdown with Hezbollah, pledging peaceful action to “liberate the nation from occupation through weapons.”
On Friday, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of Rafiq Hariri who was himself assassinated in a 2005 car bombing blamed on Hezbollah, hinted that Hezbollah was behind the assassination of his senior aide.
“Those who assassinated Mohammed Shatah are the ones who assassinated Rafiq Hariri; they are the ones who want to assassinate Lebanon,” Hariri said.
“The suspects are those who are running away from international justice and refuse to appear in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon; they are the ones opening the window of evil and chaos to Lebanon and the Lebanese and are drawing regional fires,” he added, referring to the UN-backed body that has named five members of Hezbollah as being behind his father’s death, and whom the terror group has refused to turn over.