Beirut shooting: Six dead in street violence as tensions over blast probe erupt

GRAPHIC IMAGES WARNING: Bullets ricocheted off buildings and people escaped during gunfire triggered by an investigation into a fatal explosion that killed 200 people

Six people have died in the worst street violence in Beirut in more than a decade (

Image: APAImages / REX / Shutterstock)

Six people have died in the worst street violence Beirut has seen in more than a decade, triggered by an investigation into a fatal explosion.

Bullets ricocheted off buildings and people sought cover in what was once a front line in the war during the gunfire, which lasted several hours.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said snipers opened fire and aimed at people’s heads.

A witness alleged teachers at a school were forced to tell their young students to lie face down on the floor with their hands on their heads.

Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally, the Shiite Amal Movement, accused the Lebanese Armed Forces (LF), a Christian party with close ties to Saudi Arabia, of attacking their supporters who had gathered to seek dismissal of the judge calling for an investigation into the port explosion last year.

Bullets ricocheted off buildings and people ran for cover
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Image:

APAImages / REX / Shutterstock)

The explosion killed 200 people, injured thousands and devastated parts of Beirut.

The LF denied involvement and condemned the violence it attributed to Hezbollah “inciting” against Judge Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator into the port explosion.

The army initially said gunfire was aimed at protesters as they passed the Teyouneh roundabout, which separates Christian and Shiite Muslim quarters.

It was later reported that there had been an “altercation and exchange of fire” as protesters were on their way to the demonstration.

The army flooded the area around Teyouneh
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Image:

APAImages / REX / Shutterstock)

The deaths come after repeated warnings from Hezbollah and its allies that continuing Judge Bitar’s investigation would divide the country.

Judge Bitar has tried to question a number of senior politicians and security officials, including Hezbollah allies, who are suspected of the negligence that led to the port explosion.

The fatal explosion was caused by a huge amount of ammonium nitrate and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions of all time.

All have denied wrongdoing.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said snipers opened fire
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Image:

Agency Anadolu via Getty Images)

Lebanese President Michel Aoun promised to hold those responsible for the shots accountable and said in a televised address that it was “unacceptable that guns are once again the means of communication between Lebanese rivals”.

LF leader Samir Geagea, whose group had a powerful militia during the war, previously said the shots were the result of uncontrolled weapons in society and said civil peace must be preserved.

Local TV channels broadcast live footage of bullets hitting buildings and residents taking cover during the attack.

A military source said one of the victims was a woman who was hit by a bullet in her home.

The shooting began in the Christian neighborhood of Ain el-Remmaneh, the site of a massacre that sparked civil war before an exchange of fire broke out, a military source said.

Mr. Mawlawi said that all the dead were from one side, that is, Shiites.

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement said groups shot protesters from rooftops and aimed at their heads in one attack to drag Lebanon into conflict.

The army flooded the Teyouneh area and said they would open fire on any armed man on the street.

It was later reported that nine people had been arrested, including a Syrian.

Gunshots could be heard for hours.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati told Reuters that the events represented a blow to the government but would be overcome.

He added: “Lebanon is going through a difficult phase and not an easy one. We are like a patient in the emergency room.

Gunshots could be heard for hours
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Image:

Agency Anadolu via Getty Images)

“After that we have many phases to complete recovery.”

The US and France said the Lebanese judiciary must be allowed to investigate the port explosion independently and impartially.

US Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said during a visit to Beirut: “The Lebanese people deserve no less and the victims and families of the victims of the port explosion deserve no less.

“This unacceptable violence shows what is at stake.”

On Wednesday, Mr Geagea denied what he termed Hezbollah “intimidation” of Judge Bitar and called on the Lebanese to be ready to strike peacefully if the “other side” tries to enforce its will by force.

Although none of its members was targeted by the investigation, Hezbollah has accused Judge Bitar of conducting a politicized investigation that focused only on specific individuals.

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