BEIRUT — A Lebanese demonstrator was shot dead outside the Iranian embassy here Sunday when clashes erupted against the Shiite militant group Hezbollah’s widening involvement in the neighboring civil war in Syria.
Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, has riled sectarian tensions in the region by sending its fighters to support the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The official Lebanese new agency said Hisham Salman died shortly after being shot in front of the Iranian embassy in Beirut’s Bir Hassan neighborhood.
Local media reports said Salman was a member of the Intima party, an opposition group whose leader also hails from the Shiite community. The party is strongly opposed to Hezbollah’s interference in Syria, which is Iran's key ally in the region. Reports said several others were wounded in the clash.
The Lebanese news agency said the demonstration focused on Hezbollah's role in fighting alongside Syrian troops against mostly Sunni Muslim rebels in the strategic city of Qusair. The protest turned violent when armed neighborhood men clashed with demonstrators.
A Reuters journalist who was outside the Iranian embassy reported that gunmen fired their weapons at a bus. When the vehicle stopped outside the embassy, the assailants attacked it and smashed its windows with sticks.
Photographs showed stick-wielding young men in black shirts and the yellow Hezbollah wristbands attacking a white bus and chasing a person.
The violence came as this volatile Mediterranean country struggles to contain the ripple effect of Syria’s 2-year-old civil war, which has killed more than 80,000 and created about 1.5-million refugees.
Hezbollah, which receives Iranian weapons and aid via Syria, has become entrenched in the conflict since the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, announced a few weeks ago that he would stand by Assad. Lebanese are deeply divided over the Syrian conflict. The majority of Sunni Muslims support the Syrian opposition while many Shiites support the Assad regime.
Sandels is a special correspondent