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Hezbollah official assassinated at wedding, escalating sectarian tensions in Lebanon

Tensions in Lebanon reach boiling point as gunmen open fire at funeral procession of Hezbollah commander Ali Shibli who was assassinated at a wedding on 31 July 2021 in the southern town of Jiyeh

A local official of the Iran-backed and Lebanon-based Shia militant movement Hezbollah was assassinated publicly at a wedding on Saturday, in an act of revenge for the killing of Sunni teenager last year.

After the fierce clashes that took place in the Lebanese coastal town of Khaldeh last year, in which the Sunni Arab teenager Hassan Zaher Ghosn was reportedly killed by Shia militants, there have been ongoing tensions between the two communities which have only escalated.

Those tensions culminated in the assassination of Ali Shibli, a local official of Hezbollah, at a wedding party on Saturday. In a video filmed at the wedding and released on social media, the shooter is seen approaching Shibli and firing a few a handgun at him before fleeing..

According to the Al-Manar news outlet, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, the assassin was identified as Ahmed Zaher Ghosn, who it alleges is the cousin of Hassan. If that identification is confirmed, then it would make the killing an act of revenge for last August's killing.

Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA) reported that the family of the slain Ghosn released a statement accusing Shibli of being responsible for the killing of Hassan and that his body has not been returned since his murder.

The family also stated that Shibli's funeral procession – escorted by Shia militants yesterday – deliberately passed through Khaldeh instead of heading directly south and that the mourners fired into the air in a "provocative and intentional manner", tearing a public picture of Hassan Ghosn in the area in the process. They also allegedly insulted Sunni families along the way.

As that procession passed through the town yesterday, it also came under attack, with local armed men in the area firing on the mourners with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. Three were reportedly killed in the procession.

READ: Lebanon's political stalemate may lead to civil war

"We find it necessary to remind everyone that the Arabs of Khaldeh are the owners of this land, as their history dates back to Khaldeh in particular to 800 years ago," the family's statement read. "We affirm for the thousandth time that the Arab clans throughout Khaldeh and Lebanon were and still are, despite everything that happened, keen on civil peace and coexistence."

Hezbollah, for its part, has continued to deny its involvement in the death of Ghosn, maintaining: "We affirm our absolute rejection of all kinds of killing and the desecration of sanctities and dignity."

The group called upon "the security and judicial agencies to respond firmly to holding the perpetrators and those who participated with them accountable." Following the attack on the funeral procession, it also stated that the movement's leadership is observing the matter with "great interest and high accuracy."

In response, Lebanese President Michel Aoun ordered the military to implement immediate measures to arrest the shooters and restore calm to the region. Sunni Arabs in the northern city of Tripoli also reportedly called upon the army to intervene "before things deteriorate and turn into strife that affects the whole country," giving their support to the Sunnis of Khaldeh.

The alleged revenge killing and the attack on the funeral procession is the latest development in tensions between the Sunni and Shia communities of Lebanon, and come amid the ongoing economic and political crises that are ravaging the country. Many, therefore, fear that the tensions could escalate into a direct full-blown conflict if the situation is not brought under control.

There has also emerged much criticism of the political class, including Hezbollah, engaging in extravagant social events and weddings where luxurious food is served while the general population suffers from the deteriorating economic situation and downfall of the Lebanese lira.

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