Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon’s top Shiite Muslim cleric who was once regarded as the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, died in Beirut after suffering “serious internal bleeding,” the state-run National News Agency reported.
Fadlallah, who was born in 1935, had advocated armed resistance by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite party and militia, to Israel’s 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended with an Israeli withdrawal in 2000. He supported the creation of a Palestinian state in what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
The cleric was a supporter of the 1979 Iranian revolution that brought Shiite clerics to power, though he distanced himself from Iranian claims to spiritual leadership of Shiites worldwide. Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah, who is backed militarily and politically by Iran, follows the Iranian line.
Finding a replacement will be a test of Iran’s influence in Lebanon, said Oussama Safa, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies in Beirut. “The Iranians will want someone closer to their thinking,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s unlikely that the Iranians can impose a successor, but one will have to be at least suitable to them.”
Fadlallah issued a fatwa, or religious decree, in 2002 prohibiting Muslims from aiding a U.S. strike on Iraq, which is home to two of the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims. “God forbids helping the infidels against the Muslims, the oppressors against the oppressed,” he said at the time in a faxed statement.
In his last sermon, issued July 1 on his website, Fadlallah warned against what he called the Judaization of Jerusalem, saying Israeli authorities would “by means of the biggest colonization scheme” confiscate Palestinian property and drive Arabs out of the city.
In an e-mailed statement, Hezbollah called for three days of mourning. The cleric’s funeral will take place July 6, according to the independent An Nahar newspaper.
Israel and Hezbollah fought a month long war in the summer of 2006. Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel, is part of a coalition government under Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who heads a pro-Western bloc.