After a rally against the Port Blast Judge, Beirut is rocked by deadly clashes.
Heavy fighting in Lebanon’s capital killed at least six people and injured scores more on Thursday, as emotions over last year’s big portside explosion escalated, turning portions of Beirut into a war zone.
For a population already traumatized by last year’s explosion calamity and Lebanon’s worst-ever economic crisis, the army deployed tanks and troops to calm street fights that evoked memories of the 1975-1990 civil war.
After bullets were fired at a demonstration by the Muslim Shiite Hezbollah and Amal movements, the bloody unrest erupted, with the sound of automatic gunfire and grenade blasts mixing with the wail of ambulance sirens.
The demonstrators were marching against judge Tarek Bitar, who was tasked with examining the enormous ammonium nitrate explosion at Beirut’s port on August 4 last year, which killed over 200 people and wrecked large swaths of the metropolis.
Hezbollah and Amal have been after the judge in recent days for insisting on subpoenaing top officials in his investigation.
According to AFP correspondents, the violence began on Thursday with sniper fire from residential buildings, which was retaliated by Hezbollah and Amal supporters with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
“I can’t stand these loud sounds, especially the RPGs,” said Samer, a civilian stuck in the conflict zone in the city’s southern Tayouneh neighborhood.
“It’s like the trauma of the Beirut bombing resurfaced.”
The “exchange began with sniper fire, with the first casualty shot in the head,” according to Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi.
He claimed that at least six persons had been killed, all by gunfire, but he did not say who fired the rounds.
According to the Lebanese Red Cross, 30 people were injured.
Bullets blasted into houses and created craters in the walls of buildings during the turmoil, trapping many terrified inhabitants inside.
A 24-year-old woman was died after being wounded in the head by a stray bullet inside her home, according to a doctor at Beirut’s Sahel hospital.
As ambulances hurried the wounded through the desolate streets a few blocks from the Palace of Justice, where the protesters had gathered, heavy gunfire rang out.
According to AFP correspondents, the army made some arrests while raiding residential premises in search of people responsible for the sniper fire.
Hezbollah and Amal condemned the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party that is fiercely opposed to the Iran-backed group, accusing them of “firing sniper shots with the intent to murder” in a joint statement.
Chief of the Lebanese Forces. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.