Six people have been killed and many more injured after a shooting spree at a meeting with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and others in central Beirut, highlighting the worst violence the city has witnessed for years as tensions rise over a 2020 port explosion.
Unidentified terrorists tortured Hezbollah fighters, an Iranian-backed militia, and Shia allies affiliated with the Amal Movement. Hizbollah and Amal took to the streets to protest what they see as a political crackdown on the Beirut port that destroyed the capital and left more than 200 dead.
Heavy gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades were heard in the vicinity of the shooting, which took place near the Justice Palace.
The shooting lasted for three hours despite heavy military deployments, and the Red Cross in Lebanon, which provides emergency services, said the death toll rose to six Thursday afternoon. A video game show residents living in the area fleeing their homes.
In a joint statement, Hezbollah, the largest military base after the military, and Amal said the militants fired shots at the protesters, criticizing “militants and factions seeking to drag the country into chaos”.
The two groups later blamed the Lebanese Army, the right-wing party for the shooting, according to Hezbollah television. LF leader Samir Geagea condemned the fighting and said an arms attack was taking place.
The port’s search has been made more politically sensitive, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah this week demanding the removal of a judge, accusing him of favoritism.
Tarek Bitar, the second judge to lead the investigation, tried to sue and summoned former ministers and security officials across the political arena, in a bid to force the powerful men to respond to the explosion of well-stocked drugs.
A list of published documents has revealed that many officials are aware of the dangers posed by high levels of ammonium nitrogen but have failed to take action.
Affected families have repeatedly shown support for Bitar, and EU envoys in Lebanon this week have said “the investigation should be allowed to continue without interference in legal matters”. Earlier on Thursday, a court rejected an appeal to dismiss Bitar, one of a number of high-profile politicians, including Hezbollah allies.
The fighting is taking place in the former civil war zone south of Beirut, an area inhabited by all three groups in the country – Sunni and Shia Muslims and Christians. Lebanon’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990, but long-standing religious and political tensions remain.
Lebanon has been plagued by violence since the war ended. It has been two years since the financial crisis, with decades of corruption and mismanagement of government, leaving more than 7m people living in poverty. The collapse lasted more than a year without a successful government, with political parties vying for control of the ministries, which are divided into factions.
Billionaire Najib Mikati, who was elected prime minister last month, called for calm Thursday.