Lebanese political parties escalate rhetoric after deadly clashes in Beirut
Safi al-Din, one of Hezbollah’s top officials, said that Thursday’s clashes were a result of American and Israeli meddling and warned that Hezbollah was ready to “defend the country.”
Al-Akhbar, a magazine aligned with the Shia militia group, put a picture of Samir Geagea dressed as Hitler on its front page – saying that “[Hezbollah] has run out of patience”. Geagea is the leader of the Christian political party and former militia the “Lebanese Forces,” which Hezbollah accused of firing the first shots at yesterday’s protest.
Geagea, by contrast, denied Hezbollah’s claim that the Lebanese Forces fired the first shots on Thursday. Instead, he blamed the “proliferation” of weapons for the day’s violence.
The clashes took place at the Tayouneh roundabout along a civil war-era fault line which divided Shia and Christian neighbourhoods.
The scenes of huddled schoolchildren and fleeing civilians brought back not-so-distant memories of Lebanon’s civil war and rattled a country already in the throes of a multi-pronged crisis.
Funerals were held for the “martrys” of the clashes, most of whom were gunmen from the Shia Amal movement. Gunfire could be heard throughout Beirut as throngs of men shot rifles into the air in commemoration of their fallen comrades.
A more solemn ceremony was held outside the house of Maryam Farhat, a 39-year old woman who was killed in her home by a stray bullet. Farhat’s face circulated social media as Lebanese mourned her death as the embodiment of an innocent civilian caught in the crossfire of a fight between militias.
The issue which precipitated the clashes, the Beirut port explosion investigation, has only grown more divisive since Thursday. Hezbollah and Amal both claim that Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation, is supported by the US and his actions constitute foreign interference.
The claims against Bitar have steadily escalated in the month prior as Bitar has summoned former ministers and sitting MPs for questioning in relation to the investigation. Several lawsuits have been filed against Bitar, alleging he is politically biased, by MPs who he has summoned for investigation.
As a result of the investigations, Bitar’s investigation has been twice halted, despite the lawsuits eventually being dismissed by the court.
Though both Lebanese President Michel Aoun and PM Najib Mikati have said that the investigation needs to go unhindered, Bitar only has until 19 October until parliament reconvenes and sitting MPs receive judicial immunity.
With judicial immunity in place, Bitar would be unable to summon sitting MP for questioning unless parliament explicitly lifted the immunity, which it declined to do during the last parliamentary session.
To the families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion, Bitar is their last hope.
Following Thursday’s violence, the families put out a statement stating their confidence in Bitar. “Only justice will free us from the past,” the statement read.