At least six people died and another 32 were injured this Thursday in Beirut in an intense shooting shortly before the start of a demonstration called by the Shiite organization Hezbollah to demand the dismissal of the judge investigating the August 2020 explosion in the port of La capital, as reported by the Lebanese Red Cross and the country’s Armed Forces. This is one of the most violent clashes in the city in recent years.
The first shots were fired in the Tayouneh area, in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The protesters were surprised by the shots as they headed towards the Adaleya area, according to the army. This neighborhood, with a Christian majority, houses the Palace of Justice in front of which the protest was scheduled to take place. The country’s Interior Minister, Bassam Mawlawi, has assured that the first person hit was shot in the head, and the Ministry of Public Health, that two of the wounded are in critical condition.
The army quickly cordoned off the area, asked civilians to evacuate the streets and began the search for the shooters, it explained in a statement. He also warned that his units would open fire on any armed person. In mid-afternoon, he announced the arrest of nine people, without offering details.
In images and videos disseminated on social networks, pistols, assault rifles and grenade launchers were observed, as well as people seeking refuge or the arrival of ambulances amid the sound of gunfire.
The president of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, has warned in a televised speech that “it is not acceptable that weapons return as a language of communication between the Lebanese parties, because we have all agreed to turn this dark page of our history”, referring to the war civil in the country between 1975 and 1990, according to his office has collected. For his part, the country’s prime minister, Nagib Mikati, has called for calm and not to be carried away by “sedition” in a message broadcast on social networks in the morning, before meeting with his defense minister, Maurice Selim, and the chief of staff, Joseph Aoun, as reported by the army.
Hezbollah and its allied AMAL movement said in a joint statement that protesters were attacked by snipers located on the roofs of some buildings. They also interpreted the attack as an attempt to drag the country into an internal struggle and called on the army to intervene and its supporters to remain calm. In a second statement, the two groups accused the Christian political organization Lebanese Forces of being behind the attacks. Amal has subsequently acknowledged that three members of her organization were among the deceased. The president of the right-wing Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, has regretted what happened and avoided the accusation, attributing the events to the large number of weapons circulating in the country.
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The tension over the investigation of the explosion in the port of Beirut last year – which caused more than 200 deaths – and the judge in charge, Tarek Bitar, has been growing alarmingly in recent days. Hezbollah has emerged as one of the most categorical groups in demanding the removal of Bitar, whom they accuse of bias. The judge is trying to question politicians and senior officials in the security services, including an ally of the Shiite group, suspected of negligence. The families of those killed in the explosion, for their part, defend that the ruling class blocks the investigation and torpedoes the possibility of discovering the truth and doing justice.
The Lebanese courts, which removed Bitar’s predecessor in the investigation, Fadi Sawan, also accused of lack of impartiality, suspended Bitar’s work in recent weeks following these same appeals. In his case, however, they ended up being dismissed and he has resumed his work.
The tension over the investigation reached the government on Wednesday: it even postponed a session due to a hectic meeting the previous day, according to the president’s office, Michel Aoun, in a statement. The postponement of the meeting has once again raised doubts about the stability of the Executive.