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Lebanon's Top Shi'ite Cleric Dies

VOA News 04 July 2010

Lebanon's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric, whose influence reached beyond Lebanon, has died at the age of 75 after a long illness.

Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah was admitted to a Beirut hospital on Friday with internal bleeding and died on Sunday.

He is to be buried Tuesday at the Hassanein mosque in southern Beirut where he preached. Crowds of mourners are gathering at the mosque.

Lebanon's Hezbollah movement says it will mark the cleric's death with three days of mourning, and it is urging supporters to turn out in huge numbers for the funeral.

Fadlallah had strong followings in Lebanon and in Iraq, where he was born, and he was a fierce critic of Israel and the United States, which formally labeled him a terrorist.

He was often described in Western media as the spiritual mentor of Hezbollah, formed with Iran's help after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, although he denied having such a role.

The United States accused Fadlallah of links to the radical Shi'ites who kidnapped Western hostages during the height of Lebanon's civil war in the 1980s, but he denied involvement.

He survived a number of assassination attempts, included a 1985 car bombing that killed 80 people near his home in southern Beirut.

He was a supporter of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, but later distanced himself from Hezbollah's ideological ties with Iran.

Fadlallah was born in Iraq to Lebanese parents in 1935 and studied theology there under prominent scholars in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf before moving to Lebanon at the age of 30.

He was a co-founder of Iraq's Dawa Party, which was suppressed during the rule of Saddam Hussein and is now headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

He was known in Shi'ite religious circles for moderate social views, especially on women.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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