Hundreds of Lebanese mourners fired into the air Monday at a raucous funeral for an anti-Syrian cleric whose killing has set off deadly street battles in Beirut.
News that Sheikh Ahmed Abdul-Wahid had been gunned down in Lebanon set off battles between supporters and opponents of the Syrian government. By early Monday, after a night of fighting with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, at least two people had been killed and 15 others wounded.
The clashes in Beirut were the most serious unrest there since the Syrian uprising began 15 months ago. Fighting in northern Lebanon linked to the chaos in Syria also has killed eight people during the past week (( in the Lebanese port of Tripoli )).
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the spread of violence into Lebanon is extremely worrisome, and the U.S. State Department urged all parties to exercise restraint.
The latest fighting in southern Beirut resulted in the expulsion of a small pro-Syrian faction, the Arab Movement Party, from a largely Sunni Muslim neighborhood. Reports said the pro-Syrian group was attacked by gunmen from Lebanon's Future Movement, which supports the country's former prime minister Saad al-Hariri, an opponent of Syrian influence on Lebanon.
In the incident that triggered the fighting, Sunni cleric Abdul-Wahid and his bodyguard were gunned down Sunday by a Lebanese soldier, reportedly after they attempted to speed away from a security checkpoint.
The Lebanese military has said it is investigating the shooting.
At Abdul-Wahid's funeral Monday in the cleric's northern hometown of Bireh, near the Syrian border, a Sunni member of Lebanon's parliament, Khaled Daher, delivered a fiery speech accusing the Syrian government of trying "to sow chaos" in Lebanon. He told mourners Abdul-Wahid was the victim of an "international assassination" by Lebanese troops loyal to Damascus.
Syria's army was deployed in Lebanon for nearly 30 years until 2005, and still has strong ties to the country's security services. Suspicions are rife that Damascus has been manipulating its Lebanese allies to feed the fighting.
In Syria itself, activists said government forces shelled and then stormed the village of Qastoun Monday. Reuters quotes an activist living in the central city of Hama as saying dozens of mortars had hit the village and that there were casualties.
The violence followed attacks a day earlier by security forces on the nearby rebel-held town of Souran. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 39 people, including children, were killed in Sunday's violence.
There was no independent confirmation of the casualties.