Chaos in Beirut has claimed several lives – tense between Shia Muslims and Christian right-wing groups

One of the victims is a 24-year-old man who was hit by a stray shot while he was inside his apartment, a doctor states. According to the Lebanese Red Cross and Red Crescent, at least 30 people were injured in the unrest on Thursday.

Chaos erupted as people gathered to protest against Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into the massive explosion that hit Beirut in August last year.

The demonstration was organized by the two Shiite movements Hezbollah and Amal, who criticize Bitar for targeting Shiite officials instead of officials from other ethnic groups.

Hunting for shooters

The army reports several rounds of gunfire at Tayouneh-Badaro, a district with many homes. It also states that the area has been cordoned off, and that the army has begun the hunt for the shooters. All civilians have been asked to leave the area, and the army has also warned that anyone who shoots sharply will be shot.

While the shots and the sound of grenade blasts filled the streets of Beirut, the inhabitants of the area sought refuge in the corridors of their own apartments.

– I am with my cousin and aunt, and we hide in a two square meter area because we are afraid of stray shots, says Bissan al-Fakih, who lives a few hundred meters from the place where the street fights took place.

Pictures on social media also show how children in a school crawl under their desks and gather on the floor outside the classrooms.

A Lebanese mother hides behind a car with her children outside a school. Photo: Hussein Malla / AP

– Beirut is dreaming

Another resident says he stayed in his hallway for two hours before he managed to get away with a taxi.

– I can not handle these powerful sounds, especially not from rocket-propelled grenades. It is the trauma from the Beirut explosion that is coming back, says the resident, who only wants to give his first name, Samer.

It is not clear what triggered the shooting, but the mood is tense along the front line that ran between Shia Muslim and Christian areas during the previous civil war.

A journalist from the news agency AP says he saw a man start shooting with a gun. Another eyewitness said he saw people shooting at protesters from a balcony of a building.

Social media videos show members of the right-wing group of Christian Lebanese forces marching through the streets carrying large crosses the night before. They are said to have reacted to the protest being held in front of the Palace of Justice, which is located in the Christian part of the city.

Complicated

The massive explosion in a warehouse building with several hundred tons of ammonia hit Beirut on August 4, 2020. At least 215 people were killed, thousands injured and many buildings were badly damaged.

Bitar is the second judge to lead the complicated investigation. So far no Hezbollah officials have been charged.

Thursday’s clash could create new problems for the country’s recent government, which took office just a month ago and is trying to do something about the huge economic crisis in the country.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati has called for calm and warns against attempts to pull Lebanon in a violent direction.

– Deliberate destabilization

In a joint statement, Hezbollah and Amal accuse “armed and organized groups” of attacking Shiite supporters.

– They were exposed to direct shooting from snipers, which was followed by heavy shooting, they write and accuse the perpetrators of deliberately wanting to create a violent development in the country.

At the same time, they are asking their supporters to remain calm and reduce the situation.

The appointment of Taher Bitar has created deep divisions in the new government. The judge is considered independent of relatives and human rights groups, while political leaders have accused him of being biased and corrupt.

On Wednesday, a government meeting was canceled after a Hezbollah minister threatened to resign if Bitar was not ousted.

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