BEIRUT: Hundreds of people paid their respects to late-MP Elias Skaff during his funeral Wednesday, remembering him as a non-sectarian figure who extended a helping hand to the poor and was widely respected by friends and rivals alike.
Thick white smoke hung over Skaff's east Lebanon hometown of Zahle caused by thousands of machine gun rounds fired by his friends and supporters who ignored calls by the politician's Popular Bloc to leave their firearms at home for safety reasons.
"We are firing to open heaven's door for Elias Skaff," a supporter told Al-Jadeed from Zahle's Manara Square as the more than two dozen vehicle convoy arrived to the city from Beirut.
A woman covered in black and wearing a black veil and dark sun glasses sobbed as she recalled her family's relationship to Skaff.
"His house was open to everyone," she said. "He would welcome Sunnis and Shiites and Christians. He used to help us out a lot. He was never a sectarian leader."
Skaff, a former agriculture minister and head of the Popular Bloc, died Saturday after suffering from a long illness.
His body was moved from the American University of Beirut Medical Center to the village of Kahale on the Beirut-Damascus road, where his coffin, draped in the Lebanese flag and that of his party, was passed through a church for a short prayer.
Heavy gunfire rang out in the town as his friends carried the coffin outside the church. The coffin was then returned to a hearse which continued toward Zahle to be buried.
His wife, Maryam, and two sons, Joseph and Gebran, accompanied the coffin.
The convoy briefly passed through the town of Marjayat before arriving to the West Bekaa town of Qobb Elias where a couple hundred people cheered when Skaff's convoy arrived.
A scout marching band played music as men fired machine guns into the air and carried the casket over their heads.
The casket was carried for about 30 minutes to nearby Chtaura Square where mourners threw rice over it and heavy gunfire erupted again.
"His house was open to the poor and the weak, the big and the small," one man told Al-Jadeed of Skaff.
"No one has ever knocked on his door and been turned away," a woman said.
A prominent political figure and son of late Minister Joseph Skaff, Elias Skaff was elected head of the Bloc Party following the death of his father in 1992. He went on to serve as both Industry and Agricultural Minister during his tenure in Parliament and represented his parliamentary bloc in the 2006 national dialogue.
Skaff died Saturday afternoon at the American University of Beirut – Medical Center after being admitted last month after battling a long illness.