Violence flares at anti-Hizbullah protest

Clash outside Iranian embassy in Beirut leads to death and injuries

Hizbullah supporters attack a bus carrying anti-Hizbullah protesters in front of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

Hizbullah supporters attack a bus carrying anti-Hizbullah protesters in front of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

 


One person was killed and several injured in a clash between opponents and supporters of Lebanon’s Hizbullah movement outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut as demonstrators gathered in Martyrs’ Square in the city centre to protest Hizbullah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.

An army spokesman said pro-Hizbullah elements attacked demonstrators from the small Lebanese Option Party as they disembarked from buses.

Troops intervened to separate and disperse the factions. An army communique said the person who opened fire would be pursued, detained and handed over to the authorities.

Although the event was well advertised by parties favouring Syrian rebels, few attended due to the heavy deployment of troops on foot and in armoured personnel vehicles who had locked down the area.


Sectarian tensions
Nevertheless, thousands of supporters of the Sunni fundamentalist Jamaa Islamiya chanted anti-Hizbullah slogans at a pro-rebel cultural function in the southern port city of Sidon, deepening sectarian tensions.

Since the fall of the rebel-held Syrian town of Qusayr to Syrian troops bolstered by Hizbullah fighters, the army has intervened forcefully in the northern city of Tripoli, where Sunni adherents of the rebel cause have been fighting with heterodox Shia Alawite supporters of the Syrian government.

The army command has warned that there is a conspiracy to embroil Lebanon in the Syrian conflict and called on “citizens to express their political views on events in Lebanon and Syria by peaceful and democratic means and not to be driven by groups wanting to use violence as a means to achieve their ends”.

The Lebanese Red Cross has conveyed at least 85 insurgents, including Lebanese Sunnis, wounded in Qusayr fighting, to Lebanese hospitals in the Bekaa Valley.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran said Lebanon would “pay the cost of the Syrian conflict” due to the influx of 500,000 refugees and the involvement of Lebanese on the warring sides.

“We have always said, save Lebanon in order to save the Christians, and not save the Christians to save Lebanon [which] has a heritage of inter-faith dialogue and conviviality.”


Aleppo battle
Sources here and in Damascus say the battle for Aleppo province could start shortly, citing fighting northwest of the city of Aleppo as the first stage of a government offensive.

Responding to the rebel defeat at Qusayr, Syrian opposition National Coalition acting president George Sabra said in Istanbul: “What is happening in Syria today completely shuts the doors on any discussions about international conferences and political initiatives.”

He was referring to the US-Russian proposal for a conference to launch a peace process. He charged Hizbullah and Shia-majority Iraq and Iran, which support the Syrian government, of transforming the power struggle in Syria into a “sectarian conflict”.

British foreign secretary William Hague said the regime’s capture of Qusayr had made “the Geneva conference harder to bring about”.