Not even the funeral of a top Lebanese official could serve as an occasion for peace in Lebanon, as fighting erupted in the southern districts of Beirut when angry mourners tried to storm the offices of the Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati.
Lebanon is on the verge of explosion as the country is being roiled by the civil war in neighboring Syria, with the Lebanese split on whether the should support the Syrian rebels or Syrian President Bashar Assad—who is seen as a close ally of Prime Minister Mikati.
The funeral of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan attracted thousands to Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square for the funeral, which morphed into a political rally. Al-Hassan, the chief of the Internal Security Forces Information Branch, was aligned with a political movement opposing Syria’s government. Al-Hassan was head of the branch investigating Lebanese politician Michel Samaha, who is accused of planning attacks in Lebanon with two Syrian officials.
Andrew Tabler, a expert on Syria and Lebanon at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told CNN the bombing is “a message from Damascus to stay away from Michel Samaha and Syrian allies.”
Al-Hassan’s unit has recordings of Samaha planning attacks and Samaha was accused by a military court of attempting to form an armed group to spread sectarian violence through plotting political and religious assassinations. Two Syrian security officers were also charged.
At the rally that formed for al-Hassan’s funeral, violence erupted after an opposition leader demanded that Mikati step down to pave the way for talks on the crisis.
The fired up group then marched to Mikati’s office, overturned barriers, pulled apart barbed wire coils and threw steel rods, stones and bottle at soldiers and police. Security forces responded by shooting into air and firing teargas, forcing the protesters to scatter.
The mourners called for Mikati to quit. One banner read “Go, go Najib,” echoing the slogans of the Arab Spring.
Fouad al-Siniora, a former prime minister, told the crowd that the opposition rejected any dialogue to overcome the political crisis caused by Hassan’s killing unless the government first resigned.
“No talks before the government leaves, no dialogue over the blood of our martyrs,” Siniora said to roars of approval from the crowd.
Mikati said on Saturday he had offered to resign to make way for a government of national unity, but that he had accepted a request by President Michel Suleiman to stay in office to allow time for talks on a way out of the political crisis.
On Sunday night, gunmen armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades exchanged fire in southern Beirut.
While there were no reports of casualties in Beirut, there was tragedy in Tripoli to the north as a 9-year-old girl was killed by a sniper. Several people were also wounded in clashes.
Opposition leader Saad al-Hariri urged supporters to refrain from any more violence.
“We want peace, the government should fall but we want that in a peaceful way. I call on all those who are in the streets to pull back,” Hariri said on the Future Television channel.