(AP) Men wielding batons and wearing yellow arm bands evoking Lebanon's Hezbollah attacked protesters outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut Sunday during a rally against the militant group's participation in the Syrian war. One protester was killed, a senior Lebanese military official and witnesses said.
A military statement said the protesters had barely arrived at the embassy area when clashes broke out and a civilian opened fire. The embassy is located in Bir Hassan, a predominantly pro-Hezbollah area.
Witnesses at the scene saw men wearing yellow arm bands the color of Hezbollah's flag attacking the protesters with batons. It was unclear however if they were directly affiliated with the Shiite guerrilla group, and the identity of the gunman was unknown, a senior security official said.
The official identified the man killed as a 28-year-old member of the small Lebanese Option Party which had called for the anti-Hezbollah protest. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The Syrian conflict, in its third year, is increasingly spilling over into Lebanon, home to a fragile mosaic of more than a dozen religious and ethnic groups. The forces of Syria's President Bashar Assad, backed by Hezbollah fighters, succeeded last week in driving rebels out of a strategic town near the Lebanese border after a grueling three-week battle.
The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said last month he would side with Assad until the rebels are defeated.
Gunmen from rival religious sects have also gone to Syria to fight on the rebel sides.
Hezbollah's overt and triumphant participation in the fighting in Qusair has also inflamed political tensions in the country, which is deeply divided among supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. Clashes in northern Lebanon between rival Lebanese groups since last month claimed more than 28 lives, and rockets have targeted Hezbollah strongholds. Hezbollah's political rivals have also increased their criticism of the group, deepening a political stalemate that has hit the country in recent months and postponing for 17 months elections that were due this month.
The Lebanese Option Party is headed by a Shiite politician, Ahmad El Assaad, who has long been opposed to Hezbollah. Sunday's clash outside the Iranian embassy marked rare fighting between two opposing Shiite groups.
The official Lebanese National News Agency said the army had quickly deployed and cordoned off the area of the clashes in southern Beirut. The private Al-Jadeed Lebanese TV said a girl who was protesting was also injured in the melee.
The station's reporter at the hospital said the protester who was killed was shot twice in the leg, once in the back, and was hit on the head with a baton.
The protest at the embassy coincided with another small rally in downtown Beirut also criticizing Hezbollah's military intervention in Syria's conflict.
Dozens of protesters, including many Syrians, converged on Beirut's central Martyrs Square where a large banner read: "Rejecting Hezbollah's fighting in Syria." The crowd chanted against Hezbollah's participation in the conflict, warning that it would bring the fighting to Lebanon.
"Those fighting in Syria are not Lebanese. Their culture, their flag, money and weapons are Iranian," said Saleh el-Mashnouk, an ardent critic of Hezbollah. "We are here to erase the shame that struck Lebanon because of them."
Lebanese protester Samara el-Hariri, 31, said Syria's war is hurting Lebanon's economy and increasing sectarian tension. "My country is stricken," she said.
Shiite Iran, Hezbollah's most important patron, has also strongly backed Syria's Assad.
In Syria, fighting between government troops and rebels continued in different provinces, including near the capital Damascus and in the northern Aleppo province and its provincial capital. Pro-regime media outlets said that after securing control of Qusair, government forces are preparing to move to recapture the contested city of Aleppo next. But activists said there were no sign of a new push on the city or its surrounding areas.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of Syrians inside the country for information, said six regime fighters were killed in clashes in a neighborhood in Aleppo. The city has been carved up into areas controlled by rebels and regime forces, and families have been displaced by shelling into villages to the north.
In Damascus, clashes were reported outside the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, where a woman was killed by a sniper as she tried to enter the camp, according to the Observatory.
The fighting in Syria has claimed more than 80,000 lives and displaced several million people. Beside Lebanon, it has also threatened to spill into neighboring countries, like Israel and Turkey.
Associated Press Writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report