SIDON, Lebanon: Tension ran high in the southern city of Sidon Wednesday after Hezbollah attempted to bury a Sunni-turned-Shiite fighter at a Sunni cemetery.
Saleh Sabbagh was killed in the raging battles for Qusair in the Syrian province of Homs.
The son of a Sunni father and a Shiite mother, Sabbagh had converted to Shiite Islam and joined Hezbollah years ago.
His family, with the exception of his mother, insisted he be buried at a Sunni cemetery in Sidon.
The attempt to bury him at a Sunni cemetery in the southern city was viewed as a provocative act by some and hundreds of angry supporters of controversial Sunni sheikh Ahmad Assir as well as a group of Salafists blocked the cemetery’s entrance with sandbags and burning tires.
The crowd chanted anti-Hezbollah slogans, vowing Sabbagh would not be buried there.
“His body should be thrown into the sea,” one protester said.
Lebanese soldiers in armored personnel carriers arrived at the cemetery in order to restore peace.
Shortly afterward, Hezbollah decided to bury Sabbagh at a Shiite cemetery in the port city, ending a potential escalation.
“My son asked in his will that his body be buried in the Shiite cemetery,” Sabbagh’s mother, pleased with the decision, said.
After burying Sabbagh, a disgruntled crowd made up of supporters of Hezbollah and Osama Saad’s Popular Nasserite Organization hurled stones at pro-Assir and Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya activists.
Soon afterward, shotguns were used in the brawl, but no casualties were reported.
Lebanese troops, rushed in with Armored Personnel Carriers, defused the situation.
Backed by Hezbollah fighters, the Syrian army staged a massive offensive against the strategic town of Qusair Sunday, after capturing most of the rural areas around the city last month.
Security sources in Lebanon put the number of Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria since Sunday at 18 with 45 wounded.
Funerals for the gunmen were held Sunday and Monday in the Bekaa Valley, the south and Beirut’s southern suburbs.