At least six people have been killed and more than 30 injured in Beirut on Thursday after protests erupted into bloodshed with armed clashes and heavy gunfights plaguing the streets of Lebanon’s capital.
The violence broke out during a protest by the militant group Hezbollah and its Shiite allies on Thursday morning as they demanded the lead judge investigating last year’s massive blast in the city’s port be removed over claims of bias.
The violence continued to escalate into the afternoon, with Lebanon’s Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi saying snipers in buildings were shooting people in the head and grenade launchers were being fired into the air.
“This is a very dangerous sign,” Mawlawi told reporters. “No one can take this.”
Six people have already been confirmed dead, according to Lebanon’s Red Cross. One of those killed was a woman who was struck by a bullet in her home, a military source told Reuters.
In scenes reminiscent of Lebanon’s civil war, local media broadcast footage of bullets bouncing off buildings and people running for cover as gunfire echoed in the streets and ambulances rushed to pick up the growing number of casualties.
Smoke also covered the neighborhood where relentless gunfire and explosions continued for hours.
Students in nearby schools huddled in corridors or laid face down on the ground with the windows open to avoid major impact.
The army heavily deployed in the area and threatened to open fire against any armed person on the road.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the clashes first unfolded, but protesters say they were fired upon by snipers deployed over rooftops as they marched toward the city’s Palace of Justice through an area that divides the Christian and Shi’ite Muslim neighborhoods.
Hezbollah claimed that snipers aimed at the heads of protesters in an attack they said aimed to drag Lebanon into conflict.
Political tensions have been building over the probe into the huge port explosion in August 2020 caused by a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate that killed more than 200 people and devastated larges sections of the city.
Hezbollah and its allies have been calling for Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation, to be removed.
As part of the probe, the judge has tried to question senior politicians and security officials – including Hezbollah allies – who are suspected of negligence that may have caused the explosion.
All have denied wrongdoing, and Hezbollah has accused the judge of having bias.
The tension over the investigation is diverting the newly formed government’s attention away from addressing Lebanon’s deepening economic crisis.
In a statement Thursday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for calm amid the bloodshed and urged people “not to be dragged into civil strife.”
Mikati later moved to the Ministry of Defense to monitor the violence from there.
“The army is proceeding with its field measures to address the situation, restore security, remove elements violating security, and arrest those involved to refer them to the judiciary,” a statement from the department said.
With Post wires