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The New Arab Staff

Protests erupt in Lebanon over US army commander's visit

Supporters of Hezbollah and the Communist Party demonstrated at the entrance of Beirut's airport [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 July, 2020

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Hezbollah supporters gathered on the road leading to Beirut International Airport to protest US CentCom chief Kenneth McKenzie's visit to commemorate the 1983 Beirut bombing.
Scores of Hezbollah supporters gathered at the road leading to Beirut International Airport on Wednesday to protest the visit of a top US Army commander to Lebanon.

The US Central Command chief Kenneth F McKenzie arrived in Beirut on Wednesday morning for a one-day visit.

His trip, protesters say, is to mark the anniversary of a 1983 bombing that killed 241 US military personnel in Beirut.

Hasan Illaik, a journalist at the daily Al-Akhbar newspaper, said "today we are standing here to tell the Americans that the honoured operation that took place on 23 October 1983 is an honor for us".

"It is one of the operations (attacks) that prevented Lebanon to be part of the American and Israeli project in the region," he added.

The participants chanted slogans in support of Hezbollah and denounced US foreign policy in Lebanon.

Tension and scuffles also erupted between the army and the protesters.

Last month, McKenzie voiced his belief that the US must maintain a close relationship with the Lebanese armed forces in order to counterbalance Hezbollah's influence.

During a webinar, the senior general said he did not support any cuts to US funding of the Lebanese army.

"I believe that they offer the best opportunity to provide security and sovereignty for Lebanon," he said.

Many observers remarked on the fact that McKenzie's trip coincided with the repatriation of Lebanese businessman Kassim Tajideen, who also landed in Beirut on Wednesday after being released early from a five-year prison sentence in the US after being convicted of funding Hezbollah.

The protests also coincided with rising tensions between the Shia militant group and the US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday blasted Shea as a "military ruler" who was inciting tensions, after she accused the party of stealing billions from state coffers during the economic crisis.

The US Embassy in Lebanon said in a statement that McKenzie met with President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace on Wednesday, where he "reaffirmed the importance of preserving Lebanon’s security, stability, and sovereignty, and underscored the importance of the strong partnership between the United States and the Lebanese Armed Forces".

The statement said that General McKenzie was accompanied by Central Command officials and officers, as well as the Ambassador Shea and the US Defence Attaché, Robert Meine.

The general's visit "also included meetings with senior Lebanese political and defense leaders, including representatives of the Ministry of Defense and the Lebanese Armed Forces, office calls at the US Embassy, and a brief stop at memorials honoring the memory of those who have perished in service to their country," the statement added.

McKenzie is also expected to make stops in neighbouring countries in the region, including Iraq.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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