A demonstration organized by Hezbollah and its allies against the judge in charge of the investigation into the explosion at the port of Beirut escalated Thursday, killing four and injuring around 20 and turning neighborhoods of the Lebanese capital into a war zone.
Heavy gunfire and explosions echoed not far from the courthouse, in front of which had gathered hundreds of demonstrators dressed in black, while AFP correspondents saw men carrying small and medium weapons.
Ambulances, howling sirens, flocked to take care of the victims in the deserted streets, the inhabitants having taken refuge in their apartments and reliving scenes of war that they thought had been forgotten.
On social media, images showed schoolchildren from an area establishment hiding under their desks or gathered on the floor in front of classrooms.
“I hid with my cousin and my aunt in a two square meter space between the rooms, because we are afraid of stray bullets“Bissan al Fakih, a resident of the area, told AFP.”We don’t know if there’s a way out” neighborhood.
Army tanks deployed
Army tanks were deployed in the neighborhood, sealing off access, and the troops warned that they would shoot point blank at anyone who opened fire.
Hezbollah and the Amal movement had called for the demonstration to demand the replacement of Judge Tareq Bitar, who is determined to question senior officials including two former Amal ministers.
In a joint statement, the two Shiite movements accused “snipers posted on the roofs of buildings“of the sector for having fired on the demonstrators. The sequence of events which led to the conflagration, however, remains unclear.
A doctor at al-Sahel hospital in the southern suburbs of Beirut says a man was shot in the head, a second was shot in the chest, and a 24-year-old woman was shot dead lost while at home.
The national news agency (ANI, official), reported a fourth death.
Twenty other people were injured, according to the Lebanese Red Cross.
Prime Minister Nagib Mikati called for a return to calm and warned against attempts to drag Lebanon into a cycle of violence.
“The fact that Hezbollah takes to the streets and throws its weight in this battle (..) could lead to major clashes and destabilization of the entire country“political analyst Karim Bitar told AFP.
Ministers try to slow down the judicial inquiry
The demonstration took place at the same place where the relatives of the victims of the explosion regularly gather to demand that the investigation be concluded.
It came just after the Court of Cassation dismissed complaints from former ministers against Mr Bitar, allowing him to resume his investigations.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bitar issued an arrest warrant against MP and former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a member of the Shiite Amal movement, an ally of Hezbollah.
But he was immediately forced to suspend his investigation after new complaints filed by Mr. Khalil and another deputy and ex-minister of Amal, Ghazi Zaayter, whom he wished to question.
The case nearly imploded on Tuesday a stormy meeting of Nagib Mikati’s government, formed in September after a political deadlock of nearly a year, with ministers reporting to Hezbollah and Amal calling for the judge to be replaced. what opposed other members of the cabinet.
The explosion on August 4, 2020, caused by the careless storage of huge amounts of ammonium nitrate, killed at least 214 people, injured more than 6,500 and devastated several neighborhoods in the capital.
Pointed out for criminal negligence, the authorities refuse any international investigation and are accused by the families of the victims and NGOs of torpedoing the local investigation.