sunny.png
Sunday October 24th, 2021 12:37PM

5 killed in Beirut clashes as tensions over blast probe soar

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

BEIRUT (AP) — Armed clashes erupted Thursday in Beirut during a protest organized by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its allies against the lead judge probing last year’s blast in the city’s port. At least five people were killed and dozens were wounded in some of the most serious fighting in years, authorities said.

The hours-long exchange of fire along a former front line from the 1975-90 civil war involved snipers, pistols, Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades, and were reminiscent of that conflict. The clashes were the worst since 2008, when the Shiite Hezbollah briefly overran parts of Beirut.

It was not immediately clear how Thursday’s violence erupted but tensions were running high after the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its Shiite allies from the Amal Movement demanded the removal of the judge leading the investigation into last year's massive port explosion. The two parties called for a protest near the Justice Palace, along the former front line between Muslim Shiite and Christian areas.

In a statement Thursday, the two groups said their protesters came under fire from snipers deployed over rooftops in the Tayouneh area.

Gunfire echoed in the capital for several hours and ambulances, sirens wailing, rushed to pick up casualties. Snipers shot from buildings. Bullets penetrated apartment windows in the area. Four projectiles fell near a private French school, Freres of Furn el Chebbak, causing panic, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The students huddled in the central corridors with the windows open to avoid major impact, in scenes reminiscent of the 1975-90 civil war. Smoke covered the neighborhood where intense gunfire was relentless. A car caught fire, while a blaze was reported in a lower floor where residents were stuck and called for help.

Haneen Chemaly, a resident of Furn el-Chebbak and mother of a 6-month old girl, said she first moved to the corridor before running to the shelter because the sound of gunfire was terrifying from her 10th-floor apartment.

“I did it for my child,” she said. “I don’t know what is happening. I can just hear the sound of gunfire.”

The violence unfolded while U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland was in town, meeting with Lebanese officials. Her schedule was slightly thrown off by the action on the streets.

The demands for Bitar’s removal and calls for protest upset many who considered it blatant intervention in the work of the judiciary.

The right wing Christian Lebanese Forces mobilized supporters Wednesday evening after Hezbollah and Amal called for the protest at the Justice Palace, located in a Christian area. Videos circulating on social media showed supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces marching in the streets, carrying large crosses.

A journalist with The Associated Press saw a man open fire with a pistol during Thursday's protest, as well as gunmen shooting in the direction of protesters from the balcony of a building. Several men fell immediately from the gunfire and bled on the street. The army deployed heavily and sent patrols to the area to search for the gunmen, following the exchanges of gunfire between the Muslim and Christian sides of the capital.

A staffer at the emergency room at al-Sahel hospital said they received three bodies and 15 people who were injured. One of the dead, a woman, had received a bullet to her head. Two of the 15 injured were in critical condition.

In a statement, Prime Minister Najib Mikati appealed for calm and urged people “not to be dragged into civil strife.”

The probe centers on hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrates that had been improperly stored at a port warehouse that detonated on August 4, 2020, killing at least 215 people, injuring thousands and destroying parts of nearby neighborhoods. It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and has further devastated the country already roiled by political divisions and unprecedented economic and financial meltdown.

Bitar is the second judge to lead the complicated investigation - his predecessor was removed following legal challenges. Now Bitar has come up against formidable opposition from the powerful Hezbollah group and its allies who accuse him of singling out politicians for questioning, most of them allied with Hezbollah.

None of Hezbollah’s officials have so far been charged in the 14-month-old investigation.

Sporadic shooting continued even after army troops deployed to the area Thursday. Residents and civilians in the area were ducking to avoid the shooting. Someone screamed: “Some martyrs on the ground!” People pulled one man who was apparently shot and down, away from the line of fire. Others pulled another body away.

In some videos circulating online, some men were chatting: “Shiite Shiite” on the streets, as residents were running from the gunfire.

The tensions over the port blast add to Lebanon's enormous multiple troubles, including an unprecedented economic and financial meltdown, an energy crisis leading to extended electricity blackouts, hyperinflation and soaring poverty.

Chemaly said said there was no electricity for her to follow on TV what was going on. So she knew nothing of the situation on the ground and opted for safety. After spending some time in the shelter, she moved to the first floor to stay with her neighbors away from the fire.

“I know there was so much mobilization from the night before, all predicting that a war would erupt,” Chemaly, who heads a local NGOs that provides social services. Civil war erupting “is the last card they have to use. They have (driven) us into bankruptcy, devastation and now they are scaring us with the specter of civil war.”

The armed clash could derail the country’s month-old government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati even before it begins tackling Lebanon’s economic meltdown.

A Cabinet meeting was canceled Wednesday after Hezbollah demanded urgent government action against the judge. One Hezbollah-allied minister said he and other Cabinet members would stage a walkout if Bitar isn’t removed.

___

Associated Press journalist Hassan Ammar in Beirut contributed reporting.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP World News, AP Business, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Financial Markets
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
5 killed in Beirut clashes as tensions over blast probe soar
Lebanon’s interior minister says five people have been killed and 16 wounded in armed clashes that erupted in Beirut during protests organized by Hezbollah and its allies against the lead investigator into last year’s massive blast at the city's port
8:51AM ( 4 minutes ago )
Shredded Banksy artwork could fetch millions at auction
A work by street artist Banksy that sensationally self-shredded just after it sold for $1.4 million could make several times that price at an auction
8:48AM ( 7 minutes ago )
The Latest: China warns of 'manipulation' of WHO virus probe
China’s Foreign Ministry has warned against what it calls possible “political manipulation” of a renewed probe by the World Health Organization into the origins of the coronavirus
8:38AM ( 18 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
At UN court, Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of ethnic hatred
Armenia is accusing neighboring Azerbaijan of systematically promoting ethnic hatred against Armenia citizens as the two nations that fought a six-week war last year face off at a U.N. court
7:32AM ( 1 hour ago )
Russia marks pandemic high of infections, deaths
Russia has recorded the highest daily numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic, a rapidly surging toll that has severely strained the nation’s health care system
7:02AM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Hungary reports 5-month high in new daily cases
Hungary has reported the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in five months, and hospitalizations also are spiking
6:38AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP World News
Deere & Co. workers go on strike after rejecting contract
More than 10,000 Deere & Co. workers went on strike Thursday after the United Auto Workers union said negotiators couldn't deliver a new agreement that would meet the “demands and needs” of workers
7:07AM ( 1 hour ago )
Turkish lira at new lows after Erdogan fires bank officials
The Turkish lira has hit record lows against the dollar after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired three senior central bank officials
6:28AM ( 2 hours ago )
Report: 3 killed in Beirut amid clashes over blast probe
At least three people have reportedly been killed in armed clashes in Beirut amid protests against the lead judge investigating last year’s massive blast in the city's port
6:04AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Business
Asian shares rise as Wall Street tech gain boosts optimism
Asian shares are mostly higher, tracking an overnight rally on Wall Street as investors sought out bargains, including technology stocks
1:52AM ( 7 hours ago )
Biden tries to tame inflation by having LA port open 24/7
President Joe Biden has announced a deal to expand operations at the Port of Los Angeles in hopes of ending the logjam of ships waiting to unload
10:33PM ( 10 hours ago )
The Latest: South Korea has 100th day of 1,000-plus cases
South Korea has reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections for the 100th consecutive day as a delta-driven outbreak continues to spread in the greater capital area
10:31PM ( 10 hours ago )
AP Business - Economy
Stocks are mostly higher on Wall Street in choppy trading
Stock indexes are mostly higher in afternoon trading on Wall Street as investors review earnings and inflation data
3:36PM ( 17 hours ago )
Stocks turn mixed on Wall Street in choppy trading
Stocks turned mixed in afternoon trading on Wall Street as investors review earnings and inflation data
1:18PM ( 19 hours ago )
Stocks edge lower on Wall Street, giving up an early gain
Stocks edged mostly lower on Wall Street in midday trading Wednesday after giving up an early gain
11:48AM ( 21 hours ago )
AP Business - Financial Markets
Shredded Banksy artwork could fetch millions at auction
A work by street artist Banksy that sensationally self-shredded just after it sold for $1.4 million could make several times that price at an auction
8:48AM ( 8 minutes ago )
The Latest: China warns of 'manipulation' of WHO virus probe
China’s Foreign Ministry has warned against what it calls possible “political manipulation” of a renewed probe by the World Health Organization into the origins of the coronavirus
8:38AM ( 18 minutes ago )
5 killed in Beirut during protest over judge in blast probe
Lebanon’s interior minister says five people have been killed and 16 wounded in armed clashes that erupted in Beirut during protests organized by Hezbollah and its allies against the lead investigator into last year’s massive blast at the city's port
8:25AM ( 31 minutes ago )
Trump campaign, others want Dominion worker's suit dismissed
Attorneys for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, its onetime attorney Rudy Giuliani and conservative media figures are asking a judge to dismiss a defamation lawsuit by a former employee of Dominion Voting Systems who argues he lost his job after being named in false charges as trying to rig the 2020 presidential election
8:23AM ( 33 minutes ago )
Norway's prime minister presents his new government
Norway’s new prime minister has presented his center-left minority government a day after a man killed five in a bow-and-arrow attack in a small town
8:19AM ( 37 minutes ago )