x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Lebanon mourns ex-minister killed in bombing

Mourners in Beirut bury Mohammed Chatah, a prominent critic of the Syrian regime who was killed in Friday’s car bombing.

Omar (centre), son of former Lebanese minister Mohammed Chatah, carries his father's coffin along with relatives during his mass funeral at Al Amin mosque in Martyrs' Square, downtown Beirut. Hasan Shaaban / Reuters
Omar (centre), son of former Lebanese minister Mohammed Chatah, carries his father's coffin along with relatives during his mass funeral at Al Amin mosque in Martyrs' Square, downtown Beirut. Hasan Shaaban / Reuters

BEIRUT // Mourners in Lebanon’s capital on Sunday buried Mohammad Chatah, a prominent critic of the Syrian regime who was killed last week in a car bombing.

Angry citizens chanted against the powerful Lebanese Shiite Hizbollah movement, an ally of the Syrian regime, which has been accused of killing Chatah and other critics in recent years.

Chatah, 62, a Sunni Muslim former finance minister and close aide to former prime minister Saad Hariri, was killed on Friday along with six other people in a blast in the heart of Beirut.

The bombing raised fears about the fragile situation in Lebanon, which has seen the war in neighbouring Syria regularly spill over.

Heavy security was in place as the bodies of Chatah and his bodyguard Tarek Badr were transported from western Beirut to a mosque downtown for prayers and burial.

Chatah was buried at the mausoleum of Hariri’s father Rafiq, who was also killed in a huge suicide bombing on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005, that supporters blame on Syria and Hizbollah.

Chatah was seen as an influential figure in the March 14 coalition, which is opposed to the Syrian regime and Hizbollah, and many of its supporters said there was no doubt who had killed him.

“Syria and its allies in Lebanon, particularly Hizbollah, are the ones who assassinated Chatah, they don’t want this country to be peaceful,” said Youssef Sati, 40-year-old teacher.

Former prime minister Fuad Siniora, addressing mourners at the funeral, also criticised Hizbollah indirectly over the issue of its large arsenal, which remains beyond the control of the state.

“We have decided to liberate the country of the occupation of illegitimate weapons to preserve its independence, its sovereignty and its civil peace,” said Mr Siniora, a March 14 member.

“We call for liberty and justice, we will not surrender, we will not back down, we will not be afraid,” he said, as mourners chanted “Hizbollah is the enemy of God”.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack that killed Chatah, though March 14 has implied Damascus and Hizbollah were behind it without naming them.

Chatah’s death comes as the war in Syria exacerbates tensions in ever-fragile Lebanon.

Hizbollah has dispatched fighters to help the Syrian regime battle opposition forces, while many Lebanese Sunnis support the Sunni-dominated Syrian uprising.

In recent months, bomb attacks have targeted Hizbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut, as well as the Sunni town of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, killing dozens of people.

* Agence France-Presse