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Why Lebanon violence might not spiral, despite funeral protests (+video)

Violence broke out in Lebanon following the funeral of Gen. Wissam al-Hassan. Whether his assassination will directly spur prolonged and deepening unrest in Lebanon is doubtful, however.

By Correspondent / October 21, 2012

Sons and relatives of slain intelligence officer Wissam al-Hassan mourn over his coffin at al-Amin mosque where he is set to be buried next to former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut Oct. 21. Violence erupted in downtown Beirut on Sunday as protesters, who blame Syria for Mr. Hassan's death, tried to storm the offices of Prime Minister Najib Mikati after Hassan's funeral.

Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

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Beirut, Lebanon

Tens of thousands of Lebanese gathered in central Beirut Sunday for the funeral of a top Sunni security chief whose assassination last week in a car bomb explosion has revived fears in Lebanon of a renewed spate of sectarian bombings and killings.

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Lebanese police fired teargas at crowds after thousands of protesters attempted to storm the offices of the Prime Minister. Deborah Gembara reports.

The death of Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, the head of the intelligence wing of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), has sparked protests, some violent, across the country and calls for the government’s resignation. But it is doubtful his death will directly spur prolonged and deepening unrest in Lebanon, however.

The leadership of the anti-Syrian and Western-backed March 14 parliamentary coalition has shown little appetite for confrontations on the street that will only aggravate rising tensions between Lebanese Shiites and Sunnis. Furthermore, the militant Shiite Hezbollah is the strongest political and military force in the country, and there is no other faction in Lebanon that can successfully confront it.

However, Lebanese Sunnis are seething with rage and resentment toward the powerful Hezbollah and areas of Lebanon where Sunnis and Shiites live beside each other are certain to remain tense and could witness periodic clashes.

For many Sunnis, Hassan’s death has left them feeling vulnerable.

“He represented security for all of us. He caught traitors, Israeli spies, [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad’s spies,” says Maher Anadouli, a Sunni from the Tarek Jdeide neighborhood of Beirut who attended the funeral. “I don’t want to sound pessimistic about the situation, but his death has left us feeling afraid.”

Christian and Sunni demonstrations

A highly charged crowd, mainly Christians and Sunnis allied to the March 14 coalition, converged on Martyrs’ Square Sunday in scenes reminiscent of the funeral of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister killed in 2005, and the subsequent anti-Syrian rallies that eventually compelled Damascus to withdraw its troops from its tiny neighbor.

Hassan died Friday when a car bomb consisting of an estimated 110 pounds of TNT exploded beside his car in a narrow street in the Ashrafiyah quarter of Beirut. Another seven people died in the powerful blast, including Hassan’s bodyguard, Ahmad Sahyouni. The March 14 coalition has accused Syria of carrying out the bomb attack.

In a speech during a funeral ceremony held at the ISF headquarters, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said Hassan’s assassination targeted the Lebanese state and called for unity among rival factions.

“Enough! Unveil the crimes, starting with the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the rest of the figures,” Mr. Suleiman said.

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