Lebanese mourners vented their anger at the Shiite Hezbollah movement Sunday, accusing it of killing a leading Sunni politician in the latest in a spate of sectarian killings.
As former finance minister Mohamed Chatah was buried in the centre of Beirut, mourners chanted “Hezbollah is the enemy of God.” The movement’s name means “Party of God” in Arabic.
There was little doubt among the mourners that Hezbollah and its Syrian government ally were behind the killing of Chatah and seven other people in Friday’s car bombing in the heart of the capital.
Sectarian tensions have soared in Lebanon since Hezbollah openly intervened in the conflict in neighbouring Syria alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces earlier this year.
Many Lebanese Sunnis have provided sympathy or support to the mainly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow him.
Hezbollah and Syria have been accused of a spate of killings of Damascus opponents in Lebanon since the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Hezbollah targets have been hit by a string of deadly bombings this year, following their intervention in Syria.
“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.
An international outcry that followed Hariri’s murder prompted Syria to end a three-decade troop presence in 2005 but many Lebanese complain that the influence of their larger neighbour has never ended.
“Both old and young know that Syria hasn’t left Lebanon,” said 57-year-old Susanne Abdel Mejid, an Egyptian married to a Lebanese citizen, who has lived in Lebanon for 40 years.
“Even if its army withdrew, its henchmen and supporters are still here,” she said, wiping away her tears with a white tissue.
Chatah is the ninth high-profile critic of the Syrian regime to be killed in Lebanon since Hariri’s assassination, and his death serves to remind many Lebanese that no one has been held accountable for those killings.
“We want to punish the criminals. We’ve lost someone very important,” said Ibrahim Allawi, 19, from northern Lebanon.
“We want to know who the criminal is and make sure they are punished and held accountable.”
But there has been little sign of accountability in the string of assassinations that have rocked Lebanon since 2005.
A UN-backed tribunal has spent years investigating the attack that killed Hariri and 22 others, but Hezbollah has refused to hand over the suspects accused by the court.
Instead, five members of the group are to be tried in absentia when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon convenes in the Netherlands next month.
Chatah was considered a political moderate. He was a former finance minister and ambassador to the United States and served as an advisor to Hariri’s son Saad, another former prime minister.
Across from the downtown mosque where he was mourned on Sunday, a newly erected billboard hailed him as a “martyr for moderation.”
Salahaddin Ahmed brought four of his six children to the funeral “to see that the person we mourn today was one of the best of people, regardless of sect,” he said.
But he expressed despair at the situation in Lebanon, which has seen existing tensions rise with the war in neighbouring Syria, and said he now regretted returning from Saudi Arabia.
“I should never have come back here. I’m thinking of emigrating again because I don’t know how to live here with this atmosphere,” he sighed.
Others were similarly pessimistic at the return of political killings.
“We’re being slaughtered. I’m just glad my son is in Dubai and is building a future there,” said 60-year-old Iman Itani, a dietician.
Even before Chatah’s death, Lebanon was rocked by a series of bombings linked to the war in Syria.
Hezbollah’s stronghold in south Beirut has been targeted by several bombings, along with the northern Sunni-majority city of Tripoli.
“Since Hariri’s assassination, Lebanon hasn’t had a moment of respite,” said Sara Assaf, a 39-year-old civil society activist.
“We’re disappointed, frustrated and in despair.”