Fierce fighting erupted in the streets of Lebanon on Thursday after armed Hezbollah militants and their supporters marched on a courthouse to demand the removal of the judge investigating the massive explosion that tore through the port of Beirut early last year. At least six people were killed during the skirmish.
It was the fiercest fighting Beirut has seen since the Lebanese military clashed with Hezbollah forces in 2008.
Hezbollah staged the demonstration to demand the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar after the country’s supreme court rejected a Hezbollah petition to replace him. Bitar is the second judge to lead the investigation into the port explosion and has faced threats of violence from Hezbollah and its allies. Tensions boiled over on Tuesday when the judge issued an arrest warrant for a senior Amal Movement member and former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil.
Armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, members of the Iran-backed terrorist organization and their Shiite supporters, known as the Amal Movement, were fired upon by snipers. Footage of the violence was captured and shared on social media by civilian onlookers.
Hezbollah blamed the Lebanese Forces, a conservative Christian movement, of organizing the attack, the Washington Post reported.
Hezbollah remains the country’s most powerful political and military organization and has staged repeated attacks on neighboring Israel. The terrorist militia group took responsibility for firing a volley of explosive rockets at northern Israel this past August, the Times of Israel reported. It was one of several rocket attacks over the past few months, escalating tensions that have simmered since the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
The group claimed that it “faced an armed aggression by groups from the Lebanese Forces party, which had spread out in nearby neighborhoods and on building rooftops, and started its direct sniping operations to purposefully kill,” according to a joint statement with the Amal Movement.
Hezbollah is demanding authorities “arrest those who caused the killing operations whose names are known, and the aggressors who ran this purposeful operation from black rooms.”
According to the Washington Post, the Lebanese Forces group called the accusation “baseless” and said that the violence stemmed from tensions Hezbollah “has been stoking against the judicial investigator over the past four months.”
Imad Wakim, a lawmaker aligned with the Lebanese Forces, said on Twitter that the confrontation was “between Hezbollah and what is left of free Lebanese from all sects, preserving what has remained of government institutions.”
The Red Cross, which dispatched medics to attend to the carnage, said six people were killed and over 30 people were wounded.
Footage of the shootout shows a Hezbollah militant armed with an RPG being hit by sniper fire as other armed militants return fire at a building with small arms.
Washington Post reported:
Schools were evacuated as panicked parents flocked to pick up their children. Local media reported that residents on buildings’ higher floors were descending to avoid gunshots targeting snipers believed to be on the rooftops. Many families were evacuated from buildings in the area by the army and the Lebanese Red Cross.