Lebanese mourners in Beirut on Sunday buried Mohammad Chatah, a prominent critic of the Syrian regime killed in a car bombing that revived painful memories of political assassinations.
Angry citizens chanted slogans against the powerful Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement, an ally of the Syrian regime, which has been accused of killing Chatah and other critics in recent years.
Chatah, 62, a Sunni Muslim former finance minister and close aide to ex-prime minister Saad Hariri, was killed on Friday along with seven other people in a blast in the heart of Beirut.
The bombing raised fears about the fragile situation in Lebanon, which has seen the war in neighbouring Syria regularly spill over.
Heavy security was in place as the bodies of Chatah and his bodyguard Tarek Badr were transported from western Beirut to a mosque downtown for prayers and burial.
Chatah was buried at the mausoleum of Hariri’s father Rafiq, who was also killed in a huge suicide bombing on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005 that supporters blame on Syria and Hezbollah.
Hundreds of mourners gathered, including distraught members of Chatah’s family and political dignitaries.
His coffin was brought into the mosque draped in a green and cream-striped material with religious verses on it, alongside that of his bodyguard Badr.
Inside the mosque, the coffins were laid side by side, and one of Chatah’s sons gripped a relative of Badr’s, embracing him as they both wept.
Outside, mourners in black watched the proceedings on a large screen, one waving a Lebanese flag.
Behind them stood a lit Christmas tree and a newly erected billboard declaring Chatah a “martyr for moderation”.
Chatah was seen as an influential figure in the March 14 coalition, which is opposed to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah, and many of its supporters said there was no doubt who had killed him.
“Syria and its allies in Lebanon, particularly Hezbollah, are the ones who assassinated Chatah, they don’t want this country to be peaceful,” said 40-year-old teacher Youssef Sati.
“Whoever assassinated him, we will continue to build the country that Rafiq Hariri and Mohammad Chatah dreamed of,” he added.
‘We will not be afraid’
Former prime minister Fuad Siniora, addressing mourners, also criticised Hezbollah indirectly over its large arsenal which remains beyond state control.
“We have decided to liberate the country of the occupation of illegitimate weapons to preserve its independence, its sovereignty and its civil peace,” said Siniora, a March 14 member.
“We call for liberty and justice, we will not surrender, we will not back down, we will not be afraid,” he said, as mourners chanted “Hezbollah is the enemy of God”.
Tensions also ran high at the funeral for a teenager killed in the attack.
Protesters who accuse Lebanon’s state Sunni cleric of being too conciliatory to Hezbollah blocked his exit from the mosque where the funeral was held, forcing armed police to intervene to evacuate him.
Chatah’s assassination stirred painful memories in Lebanon of a string of assassinations between 2005 and 2012, targeting prominent critics of the Syrian regime.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack that killed Chatah, though March 14 has implied Damascus and Hezbollah were behind it without naming them.
“The criminal is the same, he who is thirsty for the blood of Syrians… he and his Lebanese allies,” it said.
Syria denied the “wrong and arbitrary accusations,” while Hezbollah said the bombing was aimed at destroying “national unity”.
Chatah is the ninth high-profile Syrian regime critic killed in Lebanon since Hariri’s assassination, and his death comes as the war in Syria exacerbates tensions in ever-fragile Lebanon.
Hezbollah has dispatched fighters to help the Syrian regime battle opposition forces, while many Lebanese Sunnis support the Sunni-dominated Syrian uprising.
In recent months, bomb attacks have targeted Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut, as well as the Sunni town of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, killing dozens of people.
On November 19, a twin suicide bomb attack on the Beirut embassy of Iran, the main ally of both Hezbollah and Syria, killed 25 people.
It was claimed by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
Lebanon also hosts more than 850,000 registered Syrian refugees, creating economic and social tensions.