Gunmen attack funeral of Hezbollah commander in Lebanon

Hezbollah says at least two people killed in the attack in Kaldeh, as the army deploys to contain sectarian tensions.

Lebanon's military warned that its forces would shoot at anyone 'carrying a gun on the streets of Khaldeh' [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Unidentified gunmen in the Lebanese town of Kaldeh have killed at least two people at the funeral of a Hezbollah commander killed a day earlier, the group said.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful armed group, said two of the mourners were confirmed dead in what it said was a planned ambush and called on the security forces to restore security in the coastal town, located south of Beirut, and pursue the culprits.

Local media outlets said up to four people may have been killed in ensuing clashes. Local television networks showed footage of armed youths rampaging in the area.

The Lebanese military said in a statement they had deployed in Khaldeh to contain the tension after heavy fire – including from rocket-propelled grenades – terrorised residents and brought traffic to a standstill. The gunmen remain at large.

Lebanon’s military in a statement warned that its forces would shoot at anyone “carrying a gun on the streets of Khaldeh”.

Lebanese media reported that the violence is rooted in a personal vendetta, and that a man from one of the Sunni Arab tribes of Khaldeh opened fire during a wedding party at a club on Saturday night, killing Ali Chebli, a Hezbollah fighter.

Chebli’s killer was apprehended and his family explained the attack as revenge. They accused Chebli of killing a 15-year-old relative of theirs in a shooting a year earlier.

The family, from the Sunni Arab tribe, said in a statement that authorities never brought Chebli to justice because he was under the protection of the powerful Hezbollah group.

A Hezbollah official told The Associated Press news agency that gunmen ambushed Chebli’s funeral procession when it reached the family home, firing at the mourners, killing his brother-in-law and a friend, and injuring others.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief reporters. The army was deployed to defuse the tensions and free the family, who had taken shelter in the house with the body.

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati called on the head of the army to increase its security presence in the town, which lies on a coastal highway leading to the south of the country.

President Michel Aoun said the situation “does not allow any security incidents” that could inflame sectarian tensions.

Sectarian conflict in the area was sparked last year after a dispute over a Shia religious banner that was hoisted in the area of the Sunni Arab tribes.

A grouping of Arab Sunni tribes in Lebanon also issued a statement saying they did not want to be drawn into an armed confrontation but blamed Hezbollah for the violence and accused it of stirring sectarian tensions.

Lebanese forces patrol a street in Khaldeh, the site of escalating sectarian tensions [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]
Source: News Agencies