Middle East

Protester 'killed outside Iranian embassy in Beirut'

Lebanese soldiers and Hezbollah supporters are seen gathered in front of the Iranian embassy in Beirut
Image caption It is not yet known who killed the protester

A Lebanese man apparently protesting against the role of Hezbollah in the Syria conflict has been killed by gunfire outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanese security sources say.

A small group was protesting at the embassy against the Shia movement and its backer, Iran, over their involvement in Syria.

It is not yet known who killed the protester.

Last week Hezbollah fighters helped retake the town of Qusair from rebels.

'Partisans attacked demonstrators'

Clashes broke out on Sunday between supporters and opponents of Hezbollah outside the Iranian embassy, on the outskirts of Beirut, a Lebanese army spokesman was quoted by news agency AFP as saying.

The young man was injured in the fighting and later died of his wounds, the army reportedly said.

Several other people were injured when Hezbollah partisans attacked the demonstrators, the spokesman told AFP.

The man killed was identified by Beirut media as Hisham Salman, head of the student section of the Lebanese Option party, a small opposition group.

The party's leader, like Hezbollah, is from the Shia community, however it strongly opposes Hezbollah's involvement in Syria.

The protesters outside the Iranian embassy in the Bir Hassan neighbourhood made demands for Hezbollah to leave Syria.

"Lebanon has never been so fragile. They are transferring the Syrian conflict into Lebanon. The Lebanese army should deploy on the border to stop Hezbollah from entering Syria," protest organiser Charles Jabbour told AFP news agency.

The incident underlines how deeply divisive the Syrian issue is in Lebanon and strengthens fears of further repercussions, BBC Beirut correspondent Jim Muir reports.

Hezbollah - or the Party of God - is a political and military organisation in Lebanon made up mainly of Shia Muslims.

It emerged with financial backing from Iran in the early 1980s and has always been a close ally of Syria.

Peace talks at risk

On Thursday, the White House called on both Iran and Hezbollah to withdraw fighters from Syria, where they have been helping government troops, particularly in the western town of Qusair, close to the border with Lebanon.

"It is clear that the regime is unable to contest the opposition's control of a place like Qusair on their own, and that is why they are dependent on Hezbollah and Iran to do their work for them," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Red Cross says nearly 90 Syrian rebel fighters have been taken to hospitals in Lebanon after being wounded in the battle for Qusair.

The strategic town, which is a major supply route for both rebel and pro-Assad fighters, was recaptured by government troops on Wednesday after weeks of fierce fighting.

Recent developments on the ground may affect efforts to convene a forthcoming international peace conference, the Syrian opposition says.

"What is happening in Syria today completely closes the doors on any discussions about international conferences and political initiatives," the interim head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, George Sabra, told reporters on Saturday.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague also said on Sunday that the government's latest gains may reduce the chances of success at the peace summit due to take place in Geneva.