A funeral for an anti-Syrian security official who uncovered a plot to set off terrorist bombs that led to the arrest of a pro-Syrian member of parliament descended into violence as hundreds of protestors tried to storm government headquarters.
Lebanese security forces unleashed a barrage of gunfire and tear gas in central Beirut on Sunday to disperse hundreds of protesters trying to storm the government headquarters after the funeral of a top Lebanese intelligence official killed by a car bomb.
The speedy ignition of the protests demonstrated the flammability of the country’s divisive and sectarian politics. The protesters blamed the assassination on the government of neighboring Syria and consider Lebanon’s current government to be too close to that embattled regime.
Many also chanted against Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that dominates the government and serves as the Damascus regime’s closest Lebanese ally.
As the battle raged, with protesters and security personnel pelting each other with hunks of concrete, metal bars and tear gas canisters, former Prime Minister Fuad Saniora appealed for calm.
“The use of violence is unacceptable and does not represent the image that we want,” Saniora said in a televised address.
Even before Friday’s bombing, the civil war in Syria had set off violence in Lebanon and deepened tensions between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad’s regime. The assassination has laid bare how vulnerable Lebanon is to renewed strife, threatening to shatter a fragile political balance struck after decades of civil strife — much of it linked to Syria.
Sunday’s clashes erupted after the funeral for Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, who was killed along with his body guard by a Beirut car bomb on Friday. Al-Hassan, 47, was a powerful opponent of Syria in Lebanon.
He was buried in Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut near former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, another anti-Syrian politician who was also assassinated, in a truck bomb in 2005.
At one time, al-Hassan was a suspect in the Hariri assassination, but the investigation into any role he might have played was halted, probably for political reasons. The former prime minister’s son Saad does not believe that Hassan was part of the conspiracy. Eventually, the Tribunal handed down 4 indictments of high ranking Hezbollah officials, accusing them of planning and carrying out the assassination. Nothing has come of those indictments and nothing will until Hezbollah is no longer in power. Even then, it is not likely, as long as the terrorist group is the best armed, and best trained armed force in the country.
Lebanon is a tinder box and the Syrian civil war just might supply the match that sets off a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that would be difficult to control.