At least six people have been killed and 32 wounded in clashes in Beirut that broke out after a pro-Hezbollah protest was allegedly fired upon by snipers. The protest by supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, a political party allied with Hezbollah, demanded the dismissal of Tarek Bitar, the judge leading an investigation into the August 2020 Beirut port explosion.
The first reports of shots fired came as the protest passed through the Tayouneh neighbourhood roundabout, on its borders with the Ain El Remmaneh and Chiyah neighbourhoods. The area is infamous for its role in the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, where it was on the border between predominantly-Christian east Beirut and the predominantly-Shia west Beirut.
Hezbollah, Amal and the Lebanese government claim that snipers fired the first shots into the protesters due to victims suffering gunshot wounds to the head, with Hezbollah and Amal accusing the Christian Lebanese Forces of being responsible for the sniper attacks. Lebanese Forces denied the accusations, claiming that Hezbollah “incitement” against Tarek was the cause for the outbreak of violence. Samir Gaegea, the leader of the political party, said that the main reason for the clashes were the “uncontrolled and widespread weapons that threaten citizens at all times and places”, calling for a thorough investigation into the clashes.
Videos posted on social media and live television broadcasts showed multiple armed gunmen affiliated with Hezbollah and Amal firing on civilian buildings with AK-pattern assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades, with Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi claiming that four RPGs were fired during the clashes. Other videos said to have been taken shortly before the first shots were fired also depicted protesters damaging cars and attacking residents in Tayouneh, while shouting pro-Shia sectarian slogans.
The clashes had largely ended by sunset, with the Lebanese Army deploying to the area to restore order and evacuate civilians. The Army states that it has arrested nine people for their involvement in the fighting, with video circulating earlier today of soldiers detaining an alleged sniper. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has since announced that a national day of mourning will be held on Friday.
Hezbollah has sought to smear Tarek for leading the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, after investigators sought to question Hezbollah politicians and other members of Lebanon’s ruling class implicated in the unsafe storage of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse at Beirut’s port for six years, before a warehouse fire resulted in a massive explosion that damaged parts of the city and killed at least 218 people. In recent days, Hezbollah and Amal have accused Tarek of “bias” in the investigation, having successfully removed his predecessor Fadi Sawan over similar accusations in February.