Armored vehicles have rolled into Beirut as the Lebanese capital descended into chaos, with crowds led by Hezbollah and Amal groups demonstrating against Tarek Bitar, the lead judge of the port blast investigation.
Beirut resembled a warzone on Thursday as the army deployed armored vehicles to a divided area of the city where deadly skirmishes erupted following an attack on a protest. The army declared that the troops would fire at any armed individuals on the capital’s streets.
The Lebanese army deployed a range of armored vehicles, including tanks and trucks with mounted machine guns. Sources on the ground suggest the troops have moved toward a building from which militants are allegedly based.
الجيش اللبناني ينتشر في شوارع بيروت، وسط اشتباكات عنيفة في حي الرمانة. pic.twitter.com/992bb8zbZs
Lebanese soldiers are firing at a building in Beirut where militants are believed to have hidden after the attack against protesters, a Sputnik correspondent reports pic.twitter.com/up5A03ch2D
Videos show armed men firing rocket-propelled grenades, others responding with machine-gun fire. Many of the militants are dressed in body armor and have sought to protect their identities by wearing balaclavas.
#Hezbollah militants in central #Beirut. Its really street fighting now. pic.twitter.com/d3jRK2bBCi
It’s a warzone. #Lebanon#Beiruthttps://t.co/R1PfzTdaVM
أراد قتل الناس بإطلاق قذيفة صاروخية ، فسقط صريعا”، عنصر من الميليشيات الشيعية في بيروت وعلى مرأى من القوى الأمنية والسلطة السياسية عاجزة عن القول للمجرم والعاهر : انت مجرم وعاهر، إنه زعيم الميليشيا الارهابية حسن نصراللاه الذي زرع الفتنة في لبنان وسوريا والعراق واليمن #لبنانpic.twitter.com/q4lJZ83rCJ
Scenes from #Beirut ‘s streets are terrifying and surreal. For many who lived who the horrors of the civil war and subsequent conflicts a horrific reminder of unhealed wounds. Here a gunman about to shoot a small rocket is shot #Beirut#Lebanon#لبنان بيروت pic.twitter.com/yCgt9eqHiq
In other footage shared online, Lebanese troops can be seen patrolling the devastated area of the city, pointing their guns up at apartment blocks as they hunt for those involved in the unrest.
انتشار الجيش اللبناني في شوارع بيروت وسماع دوي اطلاقات نارية ،بعد اندلاع اشتباكات خلال تحرك لأنصار حزب الله و حركة أمل pic.twitter.com/Xvza1eFkEk
Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for calm. The leader attended the defense ministry to oversee the response to the violent clashes.
In a statement, the Lebanese army said that the gunfire started as protesters, demonstrating against Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator of the Beirut port probe, passed through a traffic circle located in an area dividing Christian and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods.
Reports suggest the shooting came from the Christian neighborhood of Ain el-Remmaneh and spiraled with shots being fired in both directions.
Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV cited that two had been “martyred” and several wounded had been taken to a hospital in the Shiite southern suburbs. Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said five people had died.
The protesters have been calling for the removal of Judge Bitar from the port explosion probe, accusing him of prejudice after he requested some of the country’s most senior politicians appear before the court.
On Tuesday, Bitar issued an arrest warrant for ex-Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil shortly before Khalil and former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeiter filed a complaint asking for Bitar’s removal from the case. Both Zeiter and Khalil are close or allied to Hezbollah.
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