In the aftermath of a demonstration that degenerated and killed 7 people in Beirut, political differences grew stronger.
Pro-Iranian Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, on Friday buried their members killed the day before in the most violent clashes in years in Lebanon, which rocked central Beirut and rekindled the specter of civil war.
Six of the seven people killed were members of the two Shiite parties who had organized a demonstration on Thursday in front of the courthouse in the capital to demand the replacement of the judge in charge of the investigation into the gigantic explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020 ( more than 200 dead).
This violence increases the political tension which remains high on Friday in the country where Hezbollah and its allies demand the departure of judge Tareq Bitar. Despite the pressures, the magistrate wants to prosecute several officials as part of his investigation into “the earthquake that struck the country”, in the words of the former Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
But politicians refuse to be questioned even though authorities have admitted that the huge amounts of ammonium nitrate that exploded had been stored for years without precaution. On Friday, in a sermon during the funeral of two Hezbollah members in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Hachem Safieddine, a senior training official, accused the Christian party of the Lebanese Forces of having “deliberately provoked a massacre” the day before, in order to bring about “a new civil war”.
“As in 1975”
Hundreds of people attended the funerals of the two Hezbollah operatives, whose coffins were wrapped in the party’s yellow flag and framed by fighters in fatigues. A third Hezbollah member has been buried north of Beirut. The Amal movement, for its part, buried three of its members, including one, aged 26, amid heavy gunfire during a funeral in a village in Lebanon, as women threw flowers on the coffin.
The seventh victim is a mother of five, killed by a stray bullet while at home and counted among Hezbollah’s “martyrs”. The two Shiite formations accuse the Lebanese Forces of having deployed snipers on the roofs of surrounding buildings and of having targeted their supporters who were approaching the Christian neighborhoods adjoining the area.
The formation of Samir Geagea denied and called for an official investigation, accusing Hezbollah of having “invaded” Christian neighborhoods. On Friday, the Al-Akhbar newspaper, close to Hezbollah, published on the front page a portrait of the leader of Mr. Geagea, in Nazi uniform, with a Hitler mustache, accusing him of having “planned, prepared and executed a great crime ”.
The tension remains high on Friday, declared a day of national mourning. The Lebanese army deployed in force in the district of Tayouné, scene of clashes, erecting roadblocks to control cars. Business owners and residents inspect damage and clean up broken glass. “We came back as in 1975,” lamented Fawzi Saghir, a car dealer in Tayouné.
On Thursday, hundreds of Amal and Hezbollah militiamen were deployed in this area near the Palace of Justice, near the old demarcation line during the civil war (1975-1990). The exact circumstances of the violence remain unclear. The army reported “exchanges of fire” “when the demonstrators were on their way to protest”. Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said “snipers” fired at the demonstrators.
The deluge of fire that fell terrified residents, rekindling the specter of the civil war they believed they had forgotten.
“Stop provocative acts”
Russia on Friday called on those involved in the crisis to “show restraint”. The day before, France had called for “appeasement” and the United States for “de-escalation”. UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric called for “an end to provocative acts” and pleaded for an “impartial investigation” into the explosion.
The demonstration took place after the Court of Cassation rejected appeals from deputies and ex-ministers against Mr. Bitar, allowing him to resume his investigations. But the judge will not be able to do so before Tuesday, when a new parliamentary session opens during which deputies enjoy immunity.