BEIRUT (Reuters) – The powerful Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah said on Friday it would not be dragged into civil war, a day after seven Shi’ites were killed in Beirut’s bloodiest street violence in more than a decade.
Senior Hezbollah leader Hashem Safieldin repeated Hezbollah’s accusation that the Christian Lebanese Forces party, a group that had a powerful militia in the 1975-90 civil war, had opened fire in a premeditated ambush.
There was no immediate comment from the Lebanese Forces, which denied similar accusations on Thursday.
“We will not be dragged into civil war but at the same time we will not let the blood of our martyrs be in vain,” Safieldin said during a speech at the funeral of Hezbollah members killed in the shooting.
He accused the Lebanese Forces of taking orders from the United States, which lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group, and of being financed by “some Arab countries”, an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia.
The shooting began as people were assembling for a protest called by Hezbollah against the lead investigator in the Beirut port explosion, in violence that stirred memories of the country’s ruinous 1975-90 civil war.
“This act was intended … to ignite the country and cause strife,” Safieldin said, as mourners chanted “death to America”.
“Because they know that we don’t want civil strife, they dared to do that,” he said.
The violence, which erupted at a boundary between Christian and Shi’ite Muslim neighbourhoods, has added to concerns for the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and grappling with one of the world’s sharpest ever economic meltdowns.
The coffins were draped in yellow Hezbollah flags and surrounded by men in military fatigues during the funeral in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Three members of the Shi’ite Amal Movement were buried in separate funerals.
A death of a seventh person, a Shi’ite Hezbollah member, was announced on Friday.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Maha El Dahan; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean)