Beirut, Lebanon — On Thursday, armed clashes between sectarian militias turned the Beirut area into a deadly war zone, raising concerns that violence could fill the void left by the Lebanese state on the verge of collapse. rice field.
Rival gunmen chanted to assist the leader, hiding behind cars and dumplings and firing automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at their rivals. At least 6 people were killed and 30 were injured. Residents rushed home and teachers took them to school corridors and basements to protect their children from gunshots.
The worst violence in the last few years has exacerbated the instability of a small country that has cramped Beirut, suffered from catastrophic political and economic crises, and led to a recollection of the civil war that ended more than 30 years ago. Was part of.
Since the fall of 2019, the Lebanese currency has plummeted by more than 90%, smashing the economy and putting the comfortable middle class in poverty. The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic collapse could be ranked among the three worst in the world since the mid-1800s.
Due to severe fuel shortages in recent months, all but the wealthiest Lebanese have suffered from long-term power outages and long lines at gas stations. The country’s formerly proud banks, medical and education sectors all suffered serious losses as professionals fled to earn a living abroad.
As the country becomes more and more dysfunctional, its political elite has resorted to increasingly fierce fighting. The blast at Beirut last year killed more than 200 people, revealing what many Lebanese consider to be decades of inadequate governance and corruption. The Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbated financial distress and hopelessness.
The fighting on Thursday was part of a continuous fallout due to a harbor explosion.
Two Shiite Muslim parties — Iran-backed radical groups Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have organized protests calling for the dismissal of the judge responsible for investigating the blast and determining who is responsible.
According to witnesses and Lebanese officials, when protesters gathered, ammunition, believed to have been fired by snipers, rang in a nearby skyscraper, scattered on side streets, where they recovered their weapons and rejoined the fight. ..
It was unknown at the end of Thursday who fired the first shot.
The clash raged in a region that spanned two regions, home to the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party that categorically opposes Shiites and Hezbollah.
After about four hours of fighting, Lebanese troops were deployed to calm the streets, and the clash appeared to have subsided, but the inhabitants remained home and feared further violence. For many Beirut residents, the gunshots echoing in the streets reminded us of the worst days of the civil war that devastated the once graceful city for fifteen years.
“We stayed in the bathroom, the safest place in the house, for hours,” said Lina, who lived nearby and refused to take pictures through the window for fear of her daughter being shot.・ Hadad said.
“I lived in the civil war in the past,” said Mr. Hadad. “I know the meaning of the civil war.”
Hezbollah officials accused the Lebanese army of launching shootings, and in a statement the Hezbollah and Amal movements accused the unnamed army of “attempting to drag the country into a deliberate struggle.”
Lebanese Forces Commander Samir Jaaja Post to TwitterReferences to Hezbollah’s vast arsenal, saying the clash was caused by “a wide range of uncontrolled weapons that threaten civilians anytime, anywhere.”
His group accused Hezbollah of using tensions between denominations to derail port investigations for fear that it might be involved.
Antoine Zahra, an executive member of the Lebanese Armed Forces, said, “Hezbollah cannot blaspheme the whole country, its institutions, people and dignity, thus preventing anyone from expressing their opinions or performing their duties. In order to do so, we must be given lessons. ” The board said in a statement.
Lebanese troops said they had arrested nine people from both sides, including Syrians.
At dawn, the country’s president, Michel Aoun, accused the opposition of firing on armed groups, promised they would be tried, and gave a calm television speech. “Our country needs gentle dialogue, gentle solutions, and respect for our system,” he said.
Aung also said investigations into the blast at the port would continue and would conflict with protest leaders.
Violence between religious groups is especially dangerous in Lebanon, where 18 denominations are recognized, including various denominations such as Sunnis, Shiites, Muslims, and Christians. The conflict between them and the militias they maintain defined the politics of the country and often spilled over into the most devastating violence during the civil war that ended in 1990.
Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians are the largest group in Lebanon, but Hezbollah, which the United States and neighboring Israel consider to be a terrorist organization, has emerged as the country’s most powerful political and military force. With the support of Iran, Hezbollah has more than 100,000 rockets destined for Israel and thousands of fighters dispatched to the battlefields of Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
Thursday’s fighting broke out just a month after billionaire telecommunications tycoon Najib Mikati took office as prime minister, the third in a country that has been completely unauthorized for over a year. I took power.
Mikati called for a day of mourning on Friday and ordered the closure of all government buildings and schools for that day.
Mikati succeeded former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who resigned after the harbor explosion.
It was hoped that Mikati would bring some stability as he established a new administration. But at the same time, tensions over the port survey became even deeper.
The harbor explosion was caused by the sudden burning of about 2,750 tonnes of volatile chemicals that were unloaded at the harbor a few years ago, but more than a year later, no one has been held liable.
Judge Tarek Bitar, investigating the explosion, has moved to summon a series of powerful politicians and security officials for cross-examination. And that can lead to criminal accusations against them.
Hezbollah became increasingly loud in criticism of Judge Vital, and his investigation was suspended this week after two former ministers indicted filed legal complaints against him.
Victims’ families have blamed the move, and critics have said the country’s political leadership is trying to protect itself from accountability for the biggest explosion in the history of a turbulent country.
On Monday, the judge issued an arrest warrant to Ali Hussain Haril, a Shiite parliamentarian and close adviser to Amal party leaders. The warrant leveled serious accusations against Mr. Karil.
A document that says “the nature of the crime” states that “killing, harm, arson, and vandalism are associated with possible intent.”
On Tuesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrara accused officials of “politically targeting” in his investigation, calling for protests on Thursday and some of his most devastating criticisms of Judge Vital. announced.
According to witnesses, sniper ammunition rang when Hezbollah followers took part in a protest calling for the dismissal of the judge.
Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut and Mark Soundtrack from London. The report was provided by Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar in Beirut and Vivian Yee and Monael-Naggar in Cairo.