Lebanon: Hezbollah, Lebanese Forces trade blame over deadly protests | News | DW

Hezbollah and the right-wing Lebanese Forces Party pointed fingers at one another after deadly skirmishes in Beirut on Thursday.

Gunfire killed at least six people and wounded about 30 others in the Lebanese capital as tensions flared during a protest against the lead judge investigating last year’s massive blast at Beirut’s port.  

The Lebanese Forces, a right-wing Christian political party which sits in Lebanon’s parliament, claimed Hezbollah is engaging in “incitement” against the lead judge in the probe. Hezbollah, on the other hand, blamed gunmen from the Lebanese Forces for the violence. 

What do we know about the clashes?

The protest outside the Justice Palace was called for by Hezbollah 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. 

The gunfire began when people heading to the protest organized by the 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.

Minister of Internal Affairs Bassam Malaui said attacks were carried out by “snipers” from rooftops in the Tayoune neighborhood of Beirut.

The attackers also used rocket-propelled grenades, he confirmed in a statement on Lebanese TV.

In a follow-up statement, the army said it responded by firing with live rounds, asking civilians to evacuate the affected areas.

DW correspondent Bassel Aridi said no official statement regarding who was behind the shootings has been released so far by Lebanese officials. 

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 did authorities respond?

DW’s Aridi reported that the authorities sent in special forces units into the areas affected to put an end to the attacks. According to Aridi, the clashes had stopped by the mid-afternoon and the Minister of Internal Affairs confirmed six deaths in the violence. 

Bassel Aridi, DW correspondent reporting from Beirut at sunset

Bassel Aridi, DW correspondent, reported that special forces were mopping up resistance in the Lebanese capital

Aridi said the clashes between Lebanese armed forces and gunmen were the most fierce since the initial clashes earlier in the day. The armed forces said they believe snipers were deployed to shoot protesters and soldiers. 

“I don’t know if there any casualties at this moment among the Lebanese army,” Aridi said. 

“We can say things are back to normal, and at least they opened the road because before that it was completely closed by the army,” he added. 

Why are people protesting against 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 those affected by 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 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

How did other countries react to the violence?

France’s foreign ministry called for de-escalation in the wake of the deadly violence.

“France is deeply concerned over the recent hindering of the smooth running of the investigation… and the violence that has occurred in this context. France calls on all parties to bring about a de-escalation,” it said in a statement.

The “Lebanese judiciary must be able to work independently and impartially within the framework of this investigation, without hindrance, and with the full support of the Lebanese authorities,” the statement added.

US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who happened to be in Beirut at the time of the blast, also called for the preservation of an impartial judiciary, saying: “The Lebanese people deserve no less and the victims and the families of those lost in the port blast deserve no less,” she said, according to AP.

“Today’s unacceptable violence makes clear what the stakes are,” she added.

ab,jc, wd/fb,wmr (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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