Members of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas turned out in their thousands on Wednesday for the funeral in Beirut of a top Palestine Liberation Organisation official killed in a bombing.
Kamal Medhat, the PLO’s number two in Lebanon, died in Monday’s roadside bombing outside the Mieh Mieh refugee camp in southern Lebanon along with three other people, including two of his bodyguards.
The coffin of Medhat and the three other victims, draped in Palestinian flags, were carried about three kilometres (less than two miles) through the streets of Beirut from Imam Ali mosque to the Palestinian “martyrs’ cemetery.”
PLO guards marched in front of the thousands-strong procession chanting revolutionary songs while some in the cortege carried portraits of the four victims and others waved Palestinian, Fatah and Hamas flags.
In the Sunni Muslim neighbourhood of Al-Tarik al-Jadideh, where the procession began, ululating women threw rice from their balconies as a sign of mourning while armed men fired shots into the air.
As the mourners wound their way through the streets, the PLO representative in Lebanon, Abbas Zaki, walked side by side with Hamas officials.
At the cemetery, Zaki in a brief address to mourners railed against the bombers. “Those behind the killing wanted to destroy the unity between Palestinians,” he said. “We must not allow ourselves to harbour such feelings.”
Medhat was leading efforts to end the rift between Fatah — the faction led by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas — and the Hamas movement as well as several other Islamist groups operating in some of the 12 camps housing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
Medhat, 58, was also a former aide to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a former intelligence chief for Fatah in Lebanon.
Lebanese newspapers said the killing could be a “settling of scores” between Fatah and Hamas.
According to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), between 350,000 and 400,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon — a country of more than four million inhabitants — most of them living in the camps.
Other estimates put the number of refugees at 200,000 to 250,000 as UNRWA does not strike off its lists the names of those who emigrate.