At least six people were killed and about 30 injured in Beirut for shootings recorded during a protest of the Shiite movements Hezbollah and its allies Amal against the judge investigating the explosion in the port of the Lebanese capital in August 2020. Incessant gunfire and explosions echoed near the Palace of Justice, before which hundreds of protesters, dressed in black, some of them armed, had gathered. The clashes included snipers and the use of pistols, Kalashnikovs and grenade launchers.. The scenes lived on Thursday, for which there are already nine detainees, including a Syrian citizen, caused the fear of a new wave of sectarian violence in this country that was the scene of a civil war (1975-1990).
The details of a war scene
Snipers stationed on the rooftops of the capital’s Tayoune neighborhood attacked a group of protesters when they were heading to a protest called by Amal and Hezbollah in front of the Palace of Justice. Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi later confirmed in a press conference that several people were shot “in the head”, which would confirm the hypothesis of the snipers, while the shots were added by the launching of rocket-propelled grenades in the same area.
The attack was followed by several hours of clashes between Shiite gunmen and others of unknown affiliation, with at least 30 deaths according to the latest Red Cross balance. Among those killed is a 24-year-old woman who was shot in the head when she was at homesaid a doctor at the Sahel hospital, south of Beirut.
Videos of students hiding under their desks or lying on the floor in the middle of class circulated on social media. “I hid with my cousin and my aunt in a space of two square meters, between two rooms, for fear of stray bullets”, He said Bissan al Fakih, a neighbor of the area.
Fear of sectarianism
The area where the riots occurred, the worst in years, It is located near the division between a Shiite and a Christian zone that during the Lebanese civil war was the scene of important sectarian battles, which raises the fear of a possible repetition of that conflict between religious groups.
In a joint statement, Hezbollah and Amal charged for the attack on “groups of the (Christian party) of the Lebanese Forces deployed in the surrounding neighborhoods and rooftops. “This is the second Christian bloc of the Lebanese Parliament and a former militia that operated during the conflict that bloodied Lebanon.
However, the formation of Samir Geagea, who was an important commander during the war and was imprisoned for his participation, categorically denied the accusations and asked the authorities for a “clear and explicit” award of responsibility for the violence. Lebanese Forces Blame Hezbollah Efforts to Remove Judge Tarek Bitar from Investigation for Unrest.
Government implosion and crisis in the country
Hundreds of Amal and Hezbollah supporters rallied Thursday morning in Beirut shouting “Out Bitar” or “He’s playing with fire”, days after the judge in the case summoned two former Amal ministers suspected of negligence in the case of the port explosion, which occurred on August 4, 2020 due to irregularly stored amounts of ammonium nitrate. In that tragedy at least 214 people died, more than 6,000 were injured and numerous buildings in the capital were devastated.
During Thursday’s protest, protesters burned portraits of the judge and the US ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea. These bloody clashes coincide with the presence in Beirut of the number three of the US State Department, Victoria Nuland.
Ali toubi, a lawyer who attended the mobilization, assured that he supports the families of the victims of the explosion in their fight to bring “all the perpetrators” to justice, but insisted that the judge acts “selectively” and charges against “people of one color and party”.
The first Minister Nayib mikati I call keep calm already “Do not be led to sedition, regardless of the pretext”. Mikati held meetings with the President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, and the President of Parliament, Nabih Berri, to address the situation and requested a meeting of the Lebanese Security Council in the next few hours.
Hezbollah and its Shiite allies understand that the judge is politicizing the investigation. On Tuesday, Judge Bitar issued an arrest warrant against deputy and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a member of Amal. He was then forced to suspend the investigation since two former ministers filed a complaint against him in court, which was dismissed this Thursday, so the magistrate will be able to continue with his work.
This issue is about to cause an implosion of the newly formed Lebanese government, after a year of political blockade. Local authorities, accused of criminal negligence and neglect, refuse to authorize an international investigation and are accused by the families of the victims and NGOs of obstructing justice.