BEIRUT (Reuters) – A pro-Syrian Lebanese politician urged calm on Sunday after one of his aides was killed by gunfire during a police attempt to bring him in for questioning over accusations of stirring civil strife.
Wiam Wahhab, a Druze ally of the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah who has close ties to Damascus, has been at the heart of rising political tension over the last week with a series of verbal attacks on Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
Hariri supporters lodged a legal complaint against him after a video surfaced in which he was widely perceived to direct obscene insults at the Hariri family, including the late prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, without naming them.
The tension has cast another shadow over efforts to form a new national unity government more than six months since an election, with rival parties still unable to agree on how to share out portfolios in the new cabinet.
The internal security forces said they went to Wahhab’s village of al-Jahiliya on Saturday evening to take him for questioning after the public prosecutor accepted the legal complaint against him and referred the matter to the police.
In a statement, police said one of Wahhab’s aides – Mohamed Abu Diyab – was shot in “random” gunfire by Wahhab supporters and denied the police had opened fire.
Wahhab’s Arab Tawhid Party said he was hit by a bullet fired by “the attackers”.
Wahhab said on Saturday the incident meant “civil war” but on Sunday urged calm while addressing Abu Diyab’s funeral in Jahilya.
“I am working to calm the atmosphere. I have (told) the guys it is forbidden to block roads or to annoy any citizen or to open fire during the funeral,” Wahhab told al-Jadeed TV.
Wahhab accused officials including Hariri of responsibility for the killing.
A source close to Hariri, referring to Saturday’s events, said: “These were judicial proceedings in which we had no intervention”.
Wahhab has said his comments in the video, which appeared to have been shot by mobile phone at a private gathering, were “general” and not directed at Rafik al-Hariri.
Hariri’s Future Movement said last week the Hariris were being targeted by “a campaign of falsehoods” hatched by “sick minds” bent on destabilising Lebanon and obstructing efforts to form the new government.
Lebanon has suffered spasms of political crisis and violence since its 1975-90 civil war. Hariri, Lebanon’s main Sunni politician, currently heads a caretaker government.