Snipers opened fire on a rally of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah and others in central Beirut, killing 6 people and injuring dozens of others, triggering the capital’s worst violent incident in years due to an investigation into the port bombing in 2020. Tensions escalated.
Unidentified gunmen attacked supporters of Hezbollah, Iranian-backed paramilitary and political parties and their Shiite allies, the Amal Movement. Hezbollah and Amal took to the streets to protest what they believed was politicized by the judicial investigation of the Beirut port bombing, which destroyed the capital and killed more than 200 people.
The sound of automatic firing and rocket-propelled grenades was heard in nearby communities where gun battles took place near the Palace of Justice.
Despite the deployment of a large number of soldiers, the shooting continued for three hours. The Lebanese Red Cross, which provides emergency services, said the death toll had risen to six on Thursday afternoon. Live footage broadcast by a local TV station showed residents of the area fleeing their homes.
In a joint statement, Hezbollah and Amal, the largest armed forces second only to the military, stated that snipers shot demonstrators in the head, accusing “armed and organized groups aimed at dragging the country into rebellion.” .
According to the pro-Hezbollah television channel, the two groups later accused the far-right Christian party Lebanese Army of being behind the shooting. Samir Geagea, the leader of LF, condemned the fighting and blamed the conflict on the proliferation of weapons.
The port investigation has become a political hot spot. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called for the removal of the trial judge this week, accusing him of political bias.
The second judge who led the investigation, Tarek Bitar, tried to accuse and subpoena a large number of former ministers and security officials from different political fields in order to hold powerful people responsible for improperly stored chemical explosions.
A series of leaked documents showed that many officials were aware of the dangers posed by ammonium nitrate hiding, but did not take action.
The families of the victims have repeatedly expressed support for Bitar, and the EU delegation to Lebanon said this week that “the investigation should be allowed to proceed without interfering with the legal process”. Earlier Thursday, the court rejected the appeal to remove Bitar, one of a series of legal challenges initiated by accused politicians, including some Hezbollah allies.
The conflict took place on an ancient frontline of civil war in the southern part of Beirut, which is home to all three main denominations of the country-Sunni and Shiite Muslims and Christians. Lebanon’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990, but the ancient sectarian and political confrontations still exist.
Lebanon is suffering from the worst social unrest since the end of the war. Two years have passed since the economic crisis, and its root cause lies in decades of corruption and state mismanagement, which caused more than half of the nearly 7 million people to fall into poverty. For more than a year, as political forces competed for control of various ministries, there was no fully functioning government among the governments, so the collapse intensified, and these ministries were split by sect.
Billionaire Najib Mikati, who was appointed prime minister last month, called for calm on Thursday.