BEIRUT — At least five people including three members of the Hezbollah terror group were killed south of Beirut Sunday when a funeral procession for a party member was ambushed, a Lebanese security source told AFP.
Several people were wounded in the exchange of fire in the Khalde area between members of the Lebanese Shiite group and Sunni residents, the source said.
The funeral was for a Hezbollah man killed the night before, the source added.
Hezbollah in a statement appealed to the army and security forces to arrest those behind the “ambush,” which it said killed two members of the funeral procession.
The Lebanese military said they deployed in the coastal town of Khalde to contain the tension after heavy fire — including from rocket-propelled grenades — terrorized residents and brought traffic to a standstill. The gunmen remain at large.
The army said in a statement that soldiers would “open fire on all armed men on the streets of Khalde” and in response to any other shootings.
Despite the warnings, sporadic gunfire lasted for about three hours after the violence erupted, according to an AFP photographer. A precarious calm set in during the evening.
Military checkpoints backed by armored vehicles were erected at various road crossings leading to Khalde.
The Lebanese Red Cross told AFP it transported four wounded people, including one in serious condition, for medical care.
“But the number of wounded is higher, as many were transported in private cars while the Red Cross was not able to gain access to the scene of the clashes,” a Red Cross spokesman said.
Shots, sniper fire, stirred panic in the area as people fled restaurants and beaches, local media reported.
The violence is rooted in a personal vendetta. Lebanese media reported that a man from one of the Sunni Arab tribes of Khalde opened fire during a wedding party at a club on Saturday night, killing Ali Chebli, a fighter in Hezbollah.
Chebli’s killer was apprehended, and his family explained the attack as revenge. It accused Chebli of killing a 15-year-old relative of theirs in shooting a year earlier. The family, of the Sunni Arab tribe, said in a statement that authorities never brought Chebli to justice because he was under the protection of the powerful Hezbollah group.
Prime minister-designate Najib Mikati appealed for “restraint” and warned against sectarian “discord.”
Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites often run high in multi-confessional Lebanon.
Sectarian conflict in the area was sparked last year after a dispute over a Shiite religious banner that was hoisted in the area of the Sunni Arab tribes. Tensions often flare in the area.
The violence comes as Lebanon faces an economic crisis described by the World Bank as one of the world’s worst since the mid-19th century.
The country is grappling with soaring poverty, a plummeting currency and shortages of basic items from medicines to fuel.
It has been without a government for almost a year after the cabinet resigned in the wake of a catastrophic explosion at Beirut’s port last August 4.
Lebanon has been mired in political instability since a nationwide protest movement broke out in late 2019 demanding an end to the system of confessional power-sharing that it said rewarded corruption and incompetence.