Lebanon's Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of Shia Islam's highest religious authorities, has died aged 74 in a Beirut hospital, his family said.

The ayatollah had a wide following beyond Lebanon, extending to Central Asia and the Gulf.

He was a supporter of Iran's Islamic Revolution and the spiritual leader and mentor of Hezbollah in the first years after it was formed in 1982.

A fierce critic of the US, he used many of his Friday prayer sermons to denounce US policies in the Middle East.

In his final sermon, delivered by a deputy on Friday, he condemned Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and criticised the US for ‘giving cover to the enemy (Israel).’

He was known in Shia religious circles for his moderate social views, especially on women.

He issued several notable fatwas, including banning the Shia practice of shedding blood during Ashura.

He survived several assassination attempts, including a 1985 car bomb which killed 80 people in southern Beirut.