Shiite Muslims observe holy day amid regional tensions
Beirut: Millions of Shiite Muslims were marking Ashoura on Tuesday, one of the most sacred religious holy days for their sect, holding rallies, prayers and self-flagellation amid soaring tensions in the Middle East.
In southern Beirut, thousands of people, carrying yellow flags of the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group, rallied in the group's stronghold where two Israeli drones crashed late last month, further raising the potential for conflict in the region.
The somber day commemorates the killing of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, the Imam Hussein, by a rival Muslim faction in Karbala in present day Iraq, in 680 A.D.
Hussein and his descendants are seen by Shiites as the rightful heirs to the prophet. Hussein's killing has been attributed with cementing the schism between Shiite and Sunni Islam.
In Iraq, hundreds of thousands held Ashoura processions amid beefed-up security in Karbala and the capital, Baghdad, marching through the streets.
Many of the faithful beat their chests and lashed themselves with chains in a symbolic expression of regret for not being able to help Hussein before his martyrdom.
In recent years, Ashoura processions have been attacked by extremist Sunni militants.
On Sunday night, thousands marched toward the holy shrine of Imam Hussein, which had been lit up on the eve of the celebration.
This year's commemoration comes amid rising tensions in the Middle East and the crisis between Iran and the US and its ally Israel in the wake of the collapsing nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
Israel has recently expanded its war on Iran and its allies in the region, and is believed to have struck targets as far out as Iraq in recent weeks, drawing outrage and pledges of retaliation.