On Thursday in Beirut, a violent incident resulted in the fatal shooting of at least six Shi'ites. The attack targeted protesters en route to a demonstration called by Hezbollah, seeking the removal of the judge responsible for investigating the explosion that devastated the city's port in August 2020.
Hezbollah, an Iran-backed organization, along with its ally, the Shi'ite Amal Movement, accused the Lebanese Forces (LF), a Christian political party with close ties to Saudi Arabia, of orchestrating the attack. The violence occurred in an area that was a frontline during the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990.
This incident is the most significant outbreak of civil violence in Beirut since 2008 and underscores the deepening crisis surrounding the investigation into the catastrophic port explosion. This crisis is undermining the government's efforts to address one of the most severe economic collapses in history.
Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, who once commanded a powerful militia during the civil war, condemned the shooting, attributing it to the widespread availability of weapons in society and emphasizing the need to preserve civil peace.
The violence prompted disturbing recollections of the civil war, with local TV broadcasts showing bullets striking buildings and people seeking cover. Tragically, one of the victims was a woman struck by a bullet while in her own home.
The Lebanese army issued a statement indicating that the gunfire was directed at protesters passing through the Teyouneh traffic circle, situated in an area dividing Christian and Shi'ite Muslim neighborhoods. The shooting began in the Christian neighborhood of Ain el-Remmaneh and escalated into an exchange of fire, according to a military source.
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi reported that snipers had opened fire, specifically targeting individuals' heads, and all the deceased were from the Shi'ite community.
Hezbollah and the Shi'ite Amal Movement alleged that groups had fired at the protesters from rooftops, aiming for their heads. They characterized the attack as an attempt to drag Lebanon into conflict.
Hezbollah, a heavily armed group with Iranian backing, has been advocating for the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the port explosion probe, citing bias. Political tensions have risen over the investigation, diverting the government's focus from addressing the deepening economic crisis in which more than three-quarters of Lebanese citizens are living in poverty.
The judge has been seeking to question various senior politicians and security officials, including Hezbollah allies, on suspicions of negligence linked to the port explosion. All those questioned have denied any wrongdoing. Although Hezbollah members have not been direct targets of the investigation, the organization accuses Bitar of conducting a politically motivated probe that primarily focuses on specific individuals, including its allies in the Shi'ite Amal Movement who have held ministerial positions.
Earlier on Thursday, a legal complaint against Bitar was dismissed, allowing him to resume his investigation. The violence is the most severe since 2008 when supporters of the Sunni-led government clashed with gunmen loyal to Hezbollah, who took to the streets until the government reversed decisions that affected Hezbollah's interests, including actions against a telecommunications network operated by the group.