Lebanon: Clashes erupt as Hezbollah allies protest explosion probe | News | DW

Gunfire killed six people and wounded 30 others Thursday as tensions flared before a protest in Beirut.

The protest outside the Justice Palace was called for by the Shiite Hezbollah group and its supporters against the lead judge investigating last year’s massive blast in Beirut’s port

A court on Thursday dismissed the latest legal complaint brought against Judge Tarek Bitar, allowing him to resume work.

What do we know about the clashes?

The gunfire began when people heading to the protest organized by the shiite Hezbollah and Amal groups passed through the Christian neighborhood of Ain el-Remmaneh in Beirut.

Two explosions were heard as people ran for cover. Ambulance sirens were heard through the city and the Lebanese army deployed patrols to seek out the perpetrators. 

Lebanese army stand guard near the Justice Palace

Lebanese troops stand guard near the Justice Palace

“While protesters were going to Justice Palace, they were fired at in the Tayounah area,” an army statement said.

In a follow-up statement, the army said it would open fire with live rounds, asking civilians to evacuate the affected areas.

A journalist from the AP news agency saw a man open fire from his balcony with a pistol while victims lay around bleeding. 

Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for the arrest of those responsible for the shootings as he appealed for calm on Thursday. He urged people “not to be dragged into civil strife.” 

Why are there tensions around the judge?

Protesters had gathered to demand Bitar’s removal after the judge insisted on subpoenaing top officials in the blast probe.

Human rights groups and families of the blast victims see Bitar as a guarantor of justice for the deadly blast, which occurred on August 4, 2020.

But a member of the Amal group threatened a “political escalation” on Tuesday if the investigation “was not rectified.”

Tensions spilled into the recently formed Lebanese cabinet as Hezbollah and Amal ministers pushed the government to replace Bitar, further deepening divisions.

“The situation is critical. These clashes are the most dangerous circumstances Lebanon has faced since 2008,” said Bassel Aridi, DW Beirut correspondent.

A supporter of Hezbollah holds up a picture of US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea during a protest against Judge Tarek Bitar

A Hezbollah supporter holds up a picture of US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, suggesting that Bitar is backed by the US

jc/fb (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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