Beirut turns into war zone
Deadly shooting rocks Beirut as tensions over blast probe erupt
BEIRUT, Oct 14: Heavy fighting claimed at least six lives and left dozens wounded in Lebanon's capital Thursday as an escalation of tensions around last year's massive portside explosion turned parts of Beirut into a warzone.
The military deployed tanks and troops to quell the street battles that sparked memories of the 1975-1990 civil war for a city already traumatised by last year's blast disaster and Lebanon's worst-ever economic crisis. The bloody unrest, in which the sound of automatic gunfire and grenade explosions mixed with the wail of ambulance sirens, broke out after shots were fired at a demonstration by the Muslim Shiite movement Hezbollah and its Amal party allies.
The protesters were rallying against judge Tarek Bitar, tasked with investigating the massive explosion at Beirut port which killed more than 200 people and destroyed swathes of the capital on August 4 last year. The judge had in recent days been in the sights of Hezbollah and Amal in particular for insisting on subpoenaing top officials in his probe into the accident.
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said the "exchange started with sniper fire, with the first casualty shot in the head". He said at least six people were killed, all by gunfire, without specifying who fired the shots.
In the chaos, bullets smashed into houses and left craters in the walls of buildings, while many panicked civilians were trapped in their homes. Among those killed was a 24-year-old who was hit in the head by a stray bullet while inside her home, a doctor at the Sahel hospital in Beirut's southern suburbs said.
Heavy fire rang out as ambulances rushed the wounded through the deserted streets, a few blocks from the Palace of Justice, where the protesters had rallied to demand Bitar's removal. The army made some arrests as they raided residential buildings looking for those behind the sniper fire, AFP correspondents said.
Hezbollah and Amal blamed the clashes on the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party that is staunchly opposed to the Iran-backed group. "Lebanese Forces fighters spread out on rooftops fired sniper shots with the aim to kill," they said in a joint statement. -AFP