Lebanese troops blocked streets in Beirut with tanks and barbed wire for several hours on Sunday after the killing of a protester outside the Iranian embassy raised factional tensions already inflamed by the war in Syria.
The man died during a clash between rival groups of Shi’ite Muslims after militiamen from the Iranian-backed Hizbullah movement opened fire when protesters drew up at the embassy.
The Lebanese army, which has limited means to impose itself on the many armed factions still active two decades after Lebanon’s own civil war, deployed armored vehicles and set up roadblocks to cordon off the city center and neighborhoods controlled by Hizbullah. Traffic was restored toward evening.
Demonstrators from a variety of groups, including Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims and Christians, marched in the city center in protest at Hizbullah’s newly prominent role in supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — its fighters helped Assad’s troops retake the strategic border town of Qusair last week.
Fears of troubles in Syria have increased, disrupting Lebanon’s fragile balance since Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah vowed two weeks ago to fight for Assad until a final victory.
Beirut has been rebuilt after 15 years of civil war that ended in 1990, but security has proven elusive.
Hotel owner Ali Hammoud said Sunday’s violence risked deterring tourists: “What happened today makes us feel there is a very difficult period ahead. We are bringing disasters upon ourselves by interfering in others’ affairs … No one will come to Lebanon now; our concern now is just to stay alive.”