Violent clashes erupted on the streets of Beirut early Thursday morning, killing at least five people and injuring 30, according to video from officials and the scene.
The clashes came amid protests led by Shiite political parties, including Hezbollah, a terrorist group backed by Iran, to press for the removal of a judge investigating the Beirut blasts. Judge, Tarek Bitter, Multiple officers have been chargedincluding members and allies of Shia parties who have accused him of political targeting.
The violence bare deep communal tensions that were exacerbated by an acute economic crisis and the state’s near collapse. The small Mediterranean country has 18 recognized sects, including Sunni and Shia Muslims, various sects of Christians, and others.
Eyewitnesses described opening bullets from tall buildings that appeared to be from snipers, followed by clashes with automatic rifles in the surrounding streets. Residents hid in their homes as doctors scrambled to retrieve the dead and wounded, worried that the incident could spark a new round of violence in a country with a long history of civil strife. Heavy smoke emanating from the fire ignited by the battle.
“It’s still really tense around us,” Joseph Muslem, a security guard at a school near the clash, said by telephone. When the clash broke out, school staff took the children to the basement for safety, and some parents rushed to pick them up. Others were still waiting in the basement to calm down.
“Hopefully the shooting calms down so we can go ahead and go back home,” Mr Muslem said.
Responding to reports of snipers hiding on rooftops and running a gunfight, the Lebanese army was deployed to try to pacify the streets.
Tensions are high over the ongoing investigation in Beirut Port explosion, killing more than 200 people and caused extensive damage to the capital of Lebanon. The small Mediterranean nation is also in the grip of a financial collapse, which the World Bank has said could rank among the world’s worst-hit countries since the mid-1800s.
Long-standing tensions erupted in the area along the border between the two neighborhoods – one for Shia Muslim groups and the other for Christians.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for peace as the military urged civilians to leave the area, warning that soldiers would shoot anyone who fired.
In a statement, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, another Shia political party, accused unidentified parties of opening fire at peaceful protesters in an attempt to “draw the country into a deliberate conflict”.
When children were buried under desks in classrooms near the conflict site and families hid in their homes, there were also reports of banks running away as people desperately demanded to withdraw their money.
Since the fall of 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value, and annual inflation stood at 84.9 percent last year. By June, prices of many consumer goods had nearly quadrupled in the past two years, according to government data.
Massive explosion in the port of Beirut last summer, which left a large part of the capital in a dilapidated state, only added to the desperation.
When the first shots fired at a gathering of protesters in central Beirut on Thursday morning, it was not clear where they had come from or who was firing. But before chaos broke out on the streets, tensions had been building for weeks over the investigation into the August 2020 port explosion.
The explosion killed more than 200 people and injured thousands as extensive areas of the city were destroyed or damaged.
The explosion was caused by the sudden combustion of what was left of the 2,750 tonnes of hazardous chemicals that had been unloaded into the port years earlier. Many Lebanese people witnessed the explosion, and saw efforts by powerful politicians to obstruct investigations into its causes as a clear example of the country’s deep dysfunction.
the former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resign, and the country remained without a functioning government for a year. In September, billionaire telecommunications tycoon Najib Mikati, become prime minister.
But as the new government was formed, tensions over the investigation of the port deepened.
The probe was suspended this week after two former ministers facing charges filed a fresh legal complaint against the prosecuting judge.
The victims’ families condemned the move, with critics saying the country’s political leadership was trying to shield itself from accountability for the biggest explosion in the troubled country’s history.
Hezbollah has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of Judge Tarek Bitter, and two days ago Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issued some of its sharpest criticism of the judge, accusing the authorities of “politically targeting” the authorities in his investigation.
Followers of the group joined a protest on Thursday for the removal of Judge Bitter, when the gunfire went off. Witnesses said snipers were targeting the protesters.
It was this spark that sparked some of the fiercest communal conflicts in years. The artillery had gone silent by late afternoon after a four-hour encounter, but the streets were still tense as residents hid in their homes.
Lebanon, a small Mediterranean country still reeling from a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, is on the verge of a financial collapse, which the World Bank has called the world’s worst-hit countries since the mid-1800s. may be included.
It’s closing in as a blow to families whose money’s worth has plummeted, while the price of almost everything has skyrocketed.
Since the 2019 fall, the Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value, and in 2020 annual inflation was 84.9 percent. As of June, consumer goods prices had nearly quadrupled in the past two years, according to government data.
A year ago, a massive explosion in the port of Beirut, which killed more than 200 people and left a large part of the capital in shambles, only added to the desperation.
The explosion added to the country’s economic crisis, which had been there for a long time, and there is little hope of relief.
Years of corruption and bad policies have left the state in debt and the central bank is unable to keep the currency, as was the case for decades, due to a decline in foreign cash flows into the country. Now, except for the shortage of food, fuel and medicine, the economy has fallen below.
All except the wealthiest Lebanese have cut meat from their diets and wait in long lines to fuel their cars, sweating hot summer nights due to extended power cuts.