Street fights pitted armed men in Beirut on Thursday after shots fired during a demonstration organized by the Shiite movements Hezbollah and Amal, violence that left six dead and revived the specter of civil war.
The clashes took place near the Palace of Justice, where supporters of the two movements gathered to demand the replacement of Judge Tareq Bitar, in charge of the investigation into the explosion at the port of Beirut last year, who wants to question senior officials including two ex-ministers of Amal.
Abroad, France called for “appeasement“and the United States at the”de-escalation“, the two countries insisting on”independence of justice“. UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric called for”stop provocative acts“and pleaded for a”impartial investigation“on the explosion at the port.
After several hours of exchanges of fire with light weapons and RPG rockets which terrorized the inhabitants, calm returned at the end of the afternoon in the Tayouné sector, where the army was deployed. She said in a terse statement that “exchange of fire took place in the Tayouné sector as the demonstrators were on their way to protest in front of the courthouse“, very close. Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said that”snipers“had fired on the demonstrators.
The circumstances of the violence remain unclear
Quickly after the first shots, large numbers of armed men, some masked and many wearing Amal and Hezbollah armbands, rushed to the scene and started firing, according to AFP correspondents on the spot. .
But the exact circumstances of the violence remain unclear as it is not known who fired during the demonstration and who fired the Hezbollah and Amal fighters. The two Shiite movements accused the Christian formation of the Lebanese Forces of having posted snipers but it categorically denied.
Terrified by the shootings, the inhabitants of the Tayouné district took refuge in their apartments and others were evacuated from the buildings. On social media, images showed children from a school hiding under their desks or gathered on the floor in front of classrooms.
These images as well as those of the dead and wounded, not to mention the snipers, came to recall the dark days of the civil war, which had broken out in 1975 not far from there.
According to the Ministry of Health, 32 people were injured.
This violence occurs in an extremely tense political context, Hezbollah, a heavyweight in Lebanese politics, and its allies demanding the departure of Judge Bitar who, despite strong pressure, wants to prosecute several officials as part of his investigation into the explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020 (more than 200 dead). But politicians refuse to be questioned even though authorities have admitted that the huge quantities of ammonium nitrate that exploded had been stored at the port for years without precaution.
The protest came after the Court of Cassation dismissed complaints from deputies and ex-ministers against Mr. Bitar, allowing him to resume his investigations.