BEIRUT,(Reuters) – A Palestinian man was shot dead during clashes between anti-Syrian Lebanese government supporters and Palestinians close to Hezbollah in Beirut on Sunday, security sources said.
The clash was the latest in a series of sectarian skirmishes over the past two weeks that has raised fears that Lebanon’s deepening political crisis was pushing the country closer to civil strife.
The sources said fighting with sticks and stones had broken out between the two sides over political posters in the Sabra area of Beirut. Shots were fired and a Palestinian was wounded.
He later died in hospital.
The Future Trend movement of Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri denied reports by media belonging to the Hezbollah-led opposition that it was behind in the shooting. The Lebanese army intervened and ended the skirmish.
Sectarian riots raged on Saturday night in several mixed Sunni-Shi’ite streets of Beirut and wounded 14 people. Tension has been simmering for weeks with smaller scale incidents reported almost on daily basis.
Hariri’s anti-Syrian ruling coalition is locked in a 15-month power struggle against an opposition led by Shi’ite Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran.
The political crisis, the worst since the country’s 1975-90 civil war, has left Lebanon without a president since November. It has spilled into street clashes over the past year.
Last month seven Shi’ite protesters were shot dead mostly by Lebanese troops.
A few hours after Sunday’s clash, representatives from Future, Hezbollah and its Shi’ite Amal ally held a joint meeting to discuss ways to defuse the tension.
The three groups issued a joint statement calling for calm and stressing the role of the security forces in preserving the peace. The groups also called on the media to refrain from enflaming political and sectarian divisions.
In the Vatican, Pope Benedict expressed concern over rising tension in Lebanon.
“The efforts to resolve the crisis and the support offered by several prominent representatives of the international community … show the willingness to find a president for all the Lebanese people to overcome existing divisions,” Pope Benedict said during his weekly Angelus blessing.
The Pope said however that the “unusual verbal violence” and the fact that some people thought they could resolve the standoff by taking up arms were reasons for concern.
He called on all Lebanese and politicians in particular to work towards reconciliation and dialogue.