The powerful Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah said on Friday it would not be dragged into civil war, a day after seven Shi'ites were killed in Beirut's bloodiest street violence in more than a decade.
Senior Hezbollah leader Hashem Safieldin repeated Hezbollah's accusation that the Christian Lebanese Forces party, a group that had a powerful militia in the 1975-90 civil war, had opened fire in a premeditated ambush.
There was no immediate comment from the Lebanese Forces, which denied similar accusations on Thursday.
"We will not be dragged into civil war but at the same time we will not let the blood of our martyrs be in vain," Safieldin said during a speech at the funeral of Hezbollah members killed in the shooting.
He accused the Lebanese Forces of taking orders from the United States, which lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group, and of being financed by "some Arab countries", an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia.
The shooting began as people were assembling for a protest called by Hezbollah against the lead investigator in the Beirut port explosion, in violence that stirred memories of the country's ruinous 1975-90 civil war.
"This act was intended ... to ignite the country and cause strife," Safieldin said, as mourners chanted "death to America".
"Because they know that we don't want civil strife, they dared to do that," he said.
The violence, which erupted at a boundary between Christian and Shi'ite Muslim neighbourhoods, has added to concerns for the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and grappling with one of the world's sharpest ever economic meltdowns.
The coffins were draped in yellow Hezbollah flags and surrounded by men in military fatigues during the funeral in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Three members of the Shi'ite Amal Movement were buried in separate funerals.
A death of a seventh person, a Shi'ite Hezbollah member, was announced on Friday.
In related developments the head of the Christian Lebanese Forces party (LF) denied late on Friday his group had planned street violence in Beirut that killed seven people, and said a meeting held the day before was purely political. Thursday's violence, which began as people were gathering for a protest called by Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah against the judge investigating last year's Beirut port blast, was the worst in over a decade and stirred memories of the country's ruinous sectarian civil war from 1975-90.
Samir Geagea told Voice of Lebanon International radio that a meeting held on Wednesday by a political grouping the LF belongs to had discussed action options should Iran-backed Hezbollah succeed in efforts to remove the judge.
Geagea said the option agreed upon in that event was to call for a public strike, and nothing else.
The powerful Hezbollah group stepped up accusations against the LF on Friday, saying it killed the seven Shi'ites to try to drag the country into a civil war.
The violence, which erupted at a boundary between Christian and Shi'ite neighbourhoods, has added to concerns over the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and grappling with one of the world's worst ever economic meltdowns.
Asked whether the presence of LF members in the areas of Ain al-Remmaneh and Teyouneh, where the shooting erupted, meant the incident was planned, Geagea said they were always present in these areas.
The security coordinator in the party contacted the authorities when they heard a protest was planned and asked for a heavy military presence in the area "as our priority was for the demonstration to pass by simply as a demonstration and not affect civil peace," Geagea said.
Geagea said his party was assured that would be the case.
"The army has arrested snipers so they need to tell us who they are and where they came from."
Nineteen people have been detained so far in relation to the incident.
Sources: Swiss Info, Yahoo News