Lebanese pro-government supporters wave flags at Martyr's Square in downtown Beirut to mark the third anniversary of Rafik Hariri's assassination, Lebanon Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008. (AP / Tara Todras-Whitehill)
Israel put its embassies and Jewish groups around the world on alert Thursday after Hezbollah accused the nation of assassinating its top guerrilla commander and declared "open war" on the country.
The declaration by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah came as thousands of supporters gathered in Beirut on Thursday to mourn the death of Imad Moughniyeh, who was killed by a car bomb on Wednesday in Damascus.
Meanwhile, supporters of the Western-backed government crowded a downtown square to mark the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, putting the two opposing groups in close proximity and creating a potential powder keg.
Heavy rain and a strong military presence may have helped prevent serious conflict, however, said CTV's Mideast Bureau Chief Janis Mackey Frayer as the funeral procession began to wind down.
"It's always a formula for tension and certainly that was seen across Beirut. Thousands of army troops as early as yesterday started blocking off streets. There are still (troop carriers) parked on street corners here as a means to keep the factions apart," she told CTV's Canada AM.
Leaders on both sides had appealed for calm as it became evident that both sides would be marking major events on the same day, in the same city.
However, most observers expected conflict.
The Lebanese parliament's anti-Syrian majority had called for a massive show of support for the Hariri memorial, with hopes that a large turnout on the anniversary would break a 15-month political stalemate that has paralyzed the country.
And Hezbollah leaders had called on supporters in south Beirut -- a stronghold for the militant organization -- to march behind Mughniyeh's coffin and to ""carry on our shoulders a leader of whose leadership we were proud, and a martyr by whose martyrdom we're honored.''
"Let us make our voice heard by all the enemies and murderers that we will be victorious, no matter the sacrifices,'' said a Hezbollah statement aired on the militant group's Al-Manar TV.
One of the world's most wanted for decades and the former security chief of Hezbollah, the elusive Mughniyeh was killed Tuesday night in a car bombing in Syria.
A picture of Mughniyeh that was released after his death was one of the first images seen in years. It showed he had gained weight and apparently undergone some facial reconstruction to alter his appearance.
"It says a lot about exactly how shadowy this man was, exactly how wanted he was and exactly what a mastermind he was, that he was able to avoid authorities for so long," Mackey Frayer said.
Israel and the U.S. have both denied any involvement in Mughniyeh's death, but have not expressed any regrets about it.
"Israel is definitely sensing some satisfaction with this. They're denying they had any involvement with the assassination of Mughniyeh but they are welcoming it, as did the United States," Mackey Frayer said.
Hezbollah and Iran have both blamed Israel for the bombing that blew up Mughniyeh's SUV in Damascus.
Lebanese pro-government supporters walk in a street leading to the Martyrs' Square as they gather to mark the third anniversary of Rafik Hariri's assassination in downtown Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008. (AP / Mahmoud Tawil)