The militant Hezbollah organization is blaming Israel for a bomb blast that killed a leading member of the guerilla group outside Beirut. There was no immediate comment from Israeli officials, but the French news agency, AFP, says a shadowy Sunni-Muslim fundamentalist group has claimed responsibility for today's killing, calling it a move to eradicate Shi'ite heresy.

Angry and grieving crowds carried the body of assassinated Hezbollah member Ghalib Awali to a mosque where the head of the fiercely anti-Israel group gave a farewell speech for the victim.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told the hundreds of mourners that Mr. Awali had gone now to, what he termed, "eternal life," for long life of struggle against "the Zionist enemy." He blamed the explosion on what he called Israeli agents who filtered into Lebanon on European and American passports.

Hezbollah said in a statement that Mr. Awali was killed as he left his home in a Beirut suburb. Witnesses told Arabic television networks that wreckage of a car, with its windows shattered across a bloodstained road, were found in the aftermath of the blast.

Mr. Nasrallah told the crowds at Mr. Awali's funeral that his group would cut off the hands of Israel and its agents who were behind the death of Hezbollah members.

Hezbollah is popular among many Arabs for its opposition to Israel. Monday's killing of Mr. Awali will probably only increase this popularity, says a political analyst at Beirut's Lebanese American University, Sami Baroudi. "I do think they have a certain significant following, and I think, you know, incidents like the one you refer to, instead of weakening, it does increase the status and prestige of the organization," says Mr. Baroudi.

Hezbollah officials said Mr. Awali, a 41-year-old father of five, was involved in several attacks on Israeli soldiers during Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon. He was captured in 1982 by Israeli forces and jailed in Lebanon for 18 months.