At least six people have been killed in clashes which broke out in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, following on from a protest organised by Shia groups against the ongoing inquiry into the huge blast last year that killed over 200.
Shia paramilitary and political movements, Hezbollah and Amal, yesterday called for protests against the investigation, demanding the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the inquiry and also looking into those groups’ potential role in the blast.
The protests quickly turned violent, however, when Hezbollah and Amal supporters spilled onto streets in the capital and damaged cars and property. Footage of the event spread on social media, showing armed supporters firing in neighbourhoods, snipers firing from rooftops and masked men using RPGs.
As a result, bodies could be seen on the ground and schoolchildren took shelter in school corridors to protect themselves from the firing.
Sectarian tensions were especially high during the protests, with protestors heard shouting “Shia, Shia” in one video, followed by reports that opposing locals then confronted them. Hezbollah and its supporters have also claimed that unidentified men shot at them with snipers from rooftops, leading to them retaliating.
The Lebanese military was forced to deploy throughout the capital, arresting some of the snipers and attempting to control and minimise the clashes.
Bitar, the judge leading the inquiry into the blast, is the second judge to fill that role after the previous one—Fadi Sawan—was forced out and removed in February due to huge opposition by both Shia and Sunni political groups and ministers.
But Bitar has particularly earned the ire of Hezbollah, who have accused him of having bias and singling out politicians for investigation who are allied and affiliated with the group.
Despite the current Lebanese government being only a month old, it has already been forced to deal with a number of crises hitting the country—political, economic and sectarian. Following a year of Lebanon’s currency plummeting sharply and essential goods being limited, the country suffered a total blackout a few days ago due to the lack of sufficient fuel and electricity.
Now, with the current clashes on the streets of Beirut, the scenes of conflict and destruction have reignited memories of the civil war that ravaged the country in the 1970s and 1980s. Many have already predicted that the numerous crises—escalated by the sectarian tensions and lack of political stability—could potentially lead to the eruption of another civil war.