Shiites Mark 'Ashura With Verbal Attacks on U.S., Israel

Holiday commemorates 1,400-year-old incident that led to Islam's sectarian split into Sunni and Shi'ite divisions.

BEIRUT, Lebanon, April 4 (AP) - Black-clad Shiite Muslims on Wednesday mourned the death 14 centuries ago of a revered saint by slashing their heads with blades or beating their chests, with some using the annual ritual to vent anger at Israel and the United States.

Hundreds of thousands of Shiites in south Beirut as well as southern and eastern Lebanon marked the occasion known as 'Ashura with marches and reenactments of the 680 A.D. battle in which Imam Hussein was killed.

The marches were marked by divisions among Lebanon 1.2 million Shiites, who make up Lebanon's largest sect, with the rival pro-Syrian Amal Movement and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrilla group holding separate observances.

In Bahrain, where Shiites form a slight majority of the Gulf Arab state's 400,000 citizens, religious songs eulogizing Hussein were broadcast on loudspeakers as thousands of black-clad men marched down the streets, beating their chests and whipping their backs with chains.

In the southern Lebanese market town of Nabatiyeh, traditional ground for marking the occasion, about 20,000 marched in an Amal-organized procession. Scores of men and some women slashed their heads with swords, razors and knives. A few men helped cut wounds in their children's heads. Medics were on standby to help those bleeding profusely or fainting.


In the former Israeli-occupied zone in southern Lebanon, several thousand Shiites marched in the towns of Bint Jbeil and Khiam. Some raised Palestinian flags. A mock Katyusha rocket launcher - the Shiite guerrillas' favorite weapon in years of battling Israeli troops - was displayed in the procession in Khiam.

In the eastern city of Baalbek, about 10,000 marched in a Hezbollah procession, while a breakaway Hezbollah faction gathered about 1,000 to hold its own.

By far, the biggest procession was in south Beirut, the Shiite-inhabited suburbs of the Lebanese capital where Hezbollah has its strongholds.

An estimated 300,000 people - women, men and children - clad in black marched behind Hezbollah's yellow flags. Units of barefooted Hezbollah followers beat their chest in rhythm in a show of sorrow at the death of Hussein, the grandson of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Inflicting self-wounds, however, was forbidden by Hezbollah.

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