Sunni funeral turns violent

Special to The Times

Louder than the sound of smashing windows and shouts of "God is great," the shots rang out at the Saturday morning funeral procession. Within seconds, three young men lay moaning on the ground.

Mourners had come from a Sunni Muslim stronghold of Beirut to bury a young government supporter killed last week in the clashes between his group and Shiite Muslim militiamen led by Hezbollah.

As they marched toward the cemetery, holding the coffin aloft, tension rose. Angry men with guns fired into the air. Men on scooters ahead of the procession ordered shopkeepers to shut down their businesses. Boisterous slogans against the Shiite militant group rang out.

Suddenly, a large group of men scurried toward a store that sold auto parts. They started breaking the windows with sticks and shouting, "God is great!"

The shopkeeper, reported to be a Shiite opposition supporter, quickly grabbed his assault rifle and fired at the crowd. Two people were killed and 15 injured. It wasn't known whether any of the three men seen collapsed on the ground were among the dead.

The funeral procession was in honor of Mohammed Shamaa, 23, who was shot soon after telling his family he was leaving to defend his neighborhood.

As the boisterous procession moved from the morgue to his home, women on balconies threw rose petals and rice grains as a farewell gesture. His pregnant 17-year-old widow pressed his photo against her chest in grief.

The shootings Saturday tossed gasoline into the fire.

"He went to bury his friend -- why would they kill him?" screamed the mother of one of the slain, Ali Masri, 22, a restaurant employee.

As she wept in front of Makassed Hospital, where her son had been taken, men from this mostly Sunni neighborhood cried out for revenge.

One young man called on others to grab their guns and storm Shiite neighborhoods.

"But we are not armed," others replied.

Some said they would find a way to get weapons "from the north of the country, from Syria or even from Israel."

After the procession, angry government supporters set fire to the shop where the shooting happened. A few mourners continued to the cemetery to lay the coffin in the ground as a cleric read verses from the Koran.

"This time it will be worse than the civil war," said Mohammed, 56, a civil service employee who asked to be identified only by his first name. "We will find a way to defend ourselves."

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