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Gunfights Rock Beirut following Hezbollah protest against Blast Probe

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BEIRUT — Tensions over a judicial inquiry into the devastating Beirut port explosion last year have turned into street clashes and shootings in the Lebanese capital following a protest by the dominant Hezbollah faction aimed at resisting the efforts of a high judge to hold officials to account.

The Lebanese army, which sent forces to the streets to quell the fighting, said unidentified gunmen fired at protesters on their way to the protest.

“Army units are deployed and will shoot at anyone armed and on the streets and anyone who shoots from anywhere else,” the military said in a statement shared on Twitter..

He also called on civilians to clean the streets.

Hezbollah also said in a statement that snipers fired at its supporters. Members of the pro-Hezbollah mob were seen retaliating against the gunmen.

“The shots were aimed at heads,” Hezbollah said.

Lebanese security forces in Beirut on Thursday. The army called on civilians to clean the streets.


Photo:

Hussein Malla / Associated press

Six people were killed in the clashes and thirty others were injured, according to a spokesperson for the Lebanese Red Cross.

Sounds of gunfire and explosions echoed through the city, reminiscent of the country’s 15-year civil war, which divided Beirut along sectarian lines into regions ruled by warlords. The war ended in 1990, but Thursday’s battles were fought along the fault lines that divided the city 21 years ago.

Hezbollah accuses the judge in charge of the Beirut explosion investigation, Tarek Bitar, of politicizing the investigation and of focusing on the group’s allies in government. “This is political targeting and it has nothing to do with justice and truth,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech earlier this week.

The explosion in the port of Beirut last year left more than 200 dead. The explosion also injured around 7,000 people and devastated some of the liveliest residential and commercial areas in the Lebanese capital. Many affected neighborhoods have yet to recover.

The explosion accelerated the collapse of the Lebanese economy. Almost a year after the explosion, the concomitant economic and fiscal crises made the Lebanese economy one of the worst in the world.

The World Bank says Lebanon is plunged into one of the three worst global economic crises of the past 150 years. The economic collapse, made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, has pushed millions of people into poverty.

Gunfights Rock Beirut following Hezbollah protest against Blast Probe

Sounds of gunfire and explosions echoed in Beirut on Thursday.


Photo:

Hassan Ammar / Associated press

Mr. Bitar is viewed by many in Lebanon and by the families of the blast victims as their only chance for accountability.

“We trust and we trust this judge. We support him and reject everything that has been said about him in speeches and in the media of political parties, ”said Paul Naggear, whose 3-year-old daughter was killed in the explosion.

“Seeing such a reaction from the ruling mafia is an argument in favor of the judge’s competence,” he said.

Massive crowds gathered at the Port of Beirut to commemorate the anniversary of the explosion which left more than 200 dead. Groups of protesters clashed with police amid an economic collapse that caused widespread food shortages. Photo: Patrick Baz / AFP / Getty Images

The investigation into the port explosion is one of the few times that the Lebanese political elite has come under scrutiny for their actions. Many in the country accuse them of incompetence, corruption and neglect, saying their poor governance has collapsed the economy and contributed to the mismanagement of the port that led to last year’s explosion.

“The results of Bitar’s investigation will have implications not only for justice in the Beirut explosion case, but also for the type of state Lebanon will become: a state where the powerful can literally stand. get away with murder, or a state where everyone is subject to the same rule of law, ”said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Write to Nazih Osseiran at Nazih.Osseiran@wsj.com

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