BEIRUT: Heavy gunfire broke out on Thursday in Beirut in which at least six people have been killed and several others have been injured during a protest organized by the Hezbollah group against the judge leading the probe into last year’s blast in the city’s port.
The incident happened during a planned protest by supporters of Hezbollah and Amal Movement against Judge Tarek Bitar who is investigating the case of Beirut port explosions.
Hezbollah and Amal Movement started the protests in reaction to an arrest warrant released on Tuesday by Bitar against Lebanese parliament member Ali Hassan Khalil after he failed to attend a questioning session.
Meanwhile, in a statement, the Lebanese army said that armed assailants had fired on protestors as they passed through a traffic circle in an area that divides the Christian and Muslim areas.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for calm and peace in the city.
According to initial reports, the shooting was initiated from Ain el Remmaneh, a Christian neighbourhood. After the initial shootings, gunfire was also witnessed from rooftops.
Al-Manar TV which is affiliated with Hezbollah confirmed that two dead and several wounded people were taken to a hospital.
Alongside gunfire, rocket-propelled grenades were also heard by eyewitnesses.
The Lebanese Red Cross said at least 30 people were wounded. One of the dead, a mother of five, was shot in the head.
Lebanon’s army has been deployed and has said that it would fire on any unauthorised armed individual in the area.
Tensions have escalated after Hezbollah has led a call for Judge Bitar’s removal, accusing him of bias during his investigation.
The Beirut port blast resulted in over 200 deaths and destroyed parts of Beirut.
Lebanon is currently going through an economic crisis as well, increasing tensions between various political players.
Meanwhile, Lebanese judge Tarek Bitar has become a bugbear for Shiite activists, who accuse him of bias in his stewardship of the official investigation into alleged negligence in last year’s devastating explosion in Beirut port.
On the other hand, Tarek Bitar, the young and discreet judge investigating last year’s devastating Beirut port explosion, is arguably the most exposed man in the country.
He has landed himself at the centre of a battle of wills that is bringing the country to the brink once again. The 47-year-old is a white knight fighting a desperate and lonely battle against a corrupt and criminal elite.
Bitar is politically biased and the biggest threat to the status quo since a wave of protests against the ruling class in 2019.
For the relatives of the 215 people who were killed when a huge consignment of haphazardly stored fertiliser exploded on August 4 last year, Bitar is the only hope.
“He is conscientious and bold at the same time. These are essential qualities for a judge,” says Yousef Lahoud, one of the lawyers representing the victims’ families.
His determination will be tested more than ever after a demonstration for his removal Thursday by supporters of the Shiite Muslim Amal and Hezbollah movements degenerated into deadly violence and scenes reminiscent of the 1975-1990 civil war.
The manhandling the biggest case since former prime minister Rafik Hariri’s 2005 assassination is a little known figure who never talks to the press or even appears in public.
The virulent hate campaign launched against him in recent days only has a couple of pictures of him available for social media trolls to share on social media or party muscle to torch in street protests.