Gunfire killed at least six people and wounded about 30 others Thursday in Beirut as tensions flared during a protest against the lead judge investigating last year’s massive blast at Beirut’s port.
The protest outside the Justice Palace was called for by the Shiite Hezbollah group and its supporters as a court on Thursday dismissed the latest legal complaint brought against Judge Tarek Bitar, allowing him to resume work. Protesters had called for his removal.
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.
“While protesters were going to Justice Palace, they were fired at in the Tayounah area,” an army statement said.
Minister of Internal Affairs Bassam Malaui said the attack was carried out by “snipers” from roofs in the Tayoune neighborhood of Beirut. The attackers also used rocket-propelled grenades in the violence, he confirmed in a statement on Lebanese TV.
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 Associated Press saw a man open fire from his balcony with a pistol while victims lay around bleeding.
Hezbollah blamed gunmen from the Christian Lebanese Forces for the attack in a statement later on Thursday.
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.”
How are authorities tackling the violence?
DW correspondent Bassel Aridi reported that the authorities had sent in special forces units into the areas affected to put an end to the attacks.
“In the last ten minutes, the situation has perhaps settled down,” Aridi told DW. “The clashes between Lebanese armed forces and the gunmen were the most critical clashes since the morning.
“At least five RPGs exploded at a roundabout where armed personnel are standing by.”
Bassel Aridi, DW correspondent, reported that special forces were mopping up resistance in the Lebanese capital
“According to the Minister of Internal Affairs, he counted six dead at the moment,” said Aridi. “The special forces commandos are taking the lead in order to put an end to these clashes.
“I don’t know if there any casualties at this moment among the Lebanese army. Hopefully, the Lebanese armed forces will put an end to this escalation before the night,” he added.
Why are people protesting 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 on Tuesday threatened “political escalation” 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. Meetings have now been postponed until next week, said DW’s Aridi.
“The situation is critical. These clashes are the most dangerous circumstances Lebanon has faced since 2008,” he added.
A Hezbollah supporter holds up a picture of US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, suggesting that Bitar is backed by the US
jc/fb,wmr (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)