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Lebanon: Assassination of pro-Hezbollah sheikh pushes Tripoli to the brink - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A scooter drives past Lebanese army soldiers standing guard in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on October 29, 2013 as army deployed following a week of clashes between supporters and opponents of Syria's regime. (AFP)

A scooter drives past Lebanese army soldiers standing guard in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on October 29, 2013, as the army deployed following a week of clashes between supporters and opponents of Syria’s regime. (AFP)

Tripoli, Asharq Al-Awsat—Pro-Hezbollah Islamist leader Sheikh Saadedine Ghiyyeh was shot dead in Tripoli on Tuesday, reigniting fears of sectarian violence fueled by the conflict in neighboring Syria engulfing the northern Lebanese city.

The Sunni cleric was a senior official in the Islamic Action Front, which is allied to the March 8 Alliance that supports the government of embattled President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.

According to the state-run National News Agency, Ghiyyeh was shot by masked assailants on a motorcycle while travelling in his car. He was rushed to hospital but died shortly afterwards.

The Sunni sheikh, who was pro-Hezbollah, is the latest victim in a round of sectarian violence that has engulfed Tripoli against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war. More than 50 people have been killed in Tripoli in fighting between residents of the Alawite-dominated district of Jabal Muhshin and the neighboring Sunni area of Bab Al-Tabbana over the past year.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah condemned the killing, saying the violence is harming the “resistance” efforts.

“This targets everyone who has the courage to express a view that is different than the ideas of the takfirist groups of Lebanon and the region,” Nasrallah said in a live video link addressing supporters in Beirut.

“The assassination is a dangerous indicator and proof of the ominous path events are taking in Lebanon in general and Tripoli in particular,” he added.

The Hezbollah chief said this “heinous crime” was the “natural result of the inflammatory speeches by some sides in Tripoli and other areas, which is pushing the country towards a tense atmosphere.”

The latest shooting takes place against the backdrop of a court case against head of the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party, Ali Eid. He is charged with allegedly aiding and abetting a suspect wanted for the August 23 car bombings, smuggling him across the border into Syria. Eid had been scheduled to appear before a military tribunal on Tuesday for questioning, but did not show.

Residents fear that the latest assassination, along with the general state of sectarian unrest in the city following the Tripoli twin bombings in late August which resulted in at least 47 deaths, will reignite the sectarian conflict in Tripoli.

The secretary-general of the Islamic Unification Movement, Sheikh Bilal Shaaban, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Tuesday’s attack was not the first attempt on Ghiyyeh’s life. He revealed that the Islamic Action Front official had been injured in a grenade attack in September, while his car had also been fired on earlier this month.

“In the third and final [assassination] attempt, they succeeded,” Sheikh Shaaban said. “Ghiyyeh was perhaps not famous, but he was well known by the youth. He was an activist, well-loved, and was an experienced debater.

“His assassination is the result of incitement that has transgressed all limits and bounds, until it even reached Tripoli Mufti Sheikh Malek Al-Sha’ar. This is a disgusting form of incitement that is dragging Tripoli to hell,” he added.

Sheikh Saadedine Ghiyyeh was originally from Tikrit, in the northern Lebanese province of Akkar. He held degrees in Arabic language and Islamic Shari’a law, and had previously fought in Iraq against US forces.

Sheikh Shaaban said: “He was perhaps the first sheikh ever to travel to Iraq to fight the Americans, and before this he was involved in the ranks of the Palestinian revolution.”

“Ghiyyeh was not the first to be targeted in Tripoli. Approximately one year ago, Sheikh Abdul Razzaq Al-Asmar [of the Islamic Unification Movement] was killed, and approximately two months ago Hassan Al-Mouri was killed,” Shaaban added.