(Khuda Ki Basti):At least five people have been killed and dozens of others wounded when gunfire erupted as Hezbollah supporters gathered to protest against the judge investigating the Beirut port blast.
Hundreds of Hezbollah supporters and allies wearing black gathered at the Beirut Justice Palace on Thursday calling for the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the Beirut Port explosion probe, accusing him of bias.
Bursts of gunfire were heard coming from the nearby Tayyoune neighbourhood, scattering the angry protesters.
At least five people were killed and 25 others wounded by gunfire
The Lebanese Army intervened, arresting one of the shooters. The identities and affiliations of the shooters were not immediately clear.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for calm and warned against attempts to drag Lebanon into violence. The army urged civilians to leave the area around the incident and warned they would shoot anyone opening fire.
In a statement, Hezbollah and its ally Amal called on their supporters to remain calm and “not be drawn to malicious discord”
The incident comes amid soaring tensions over the probe into the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port on August 4, 2020. The protesters gathered in the Lebanese capital two days after Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s most scathing criticism of Bitar to date. Nasrallah accused the judge of “politically targeting” officials in his investigation.
Bitar has for months tried to pursue ex-ministers Ali Hasan Khalil, Ghazi Zeiter, Nouhad Machnouk, Youssef Finianos, as well as former prime minister Hasan Diab. Khalil and Zeiter belong to the Amal Movement, a Shia party led by Speaker Nabih Berri and closely allied to Hezbollah.
The judge has also asked to summon General Security chief Major-General Abbas Ibrahim and State Security head, Major-General Tony Saliba. However, the interior ministry and Higher Defense Council did not grant him permission to do so.
Khalil and Zeiter issued a legal complaint on Tuesday, which forced Bitar to temporarily suspend the investigation moments after issuing an arrest warrant for Khalil. The European Union and United States State Department called for the investigation to resume without obstruction.
More than 200 people were killed and more than 6,500 wounded in the explosion at Beirut’s port last year, when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored unsafely at the port for years, detonated.
The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, and the most destructive single incident in Lebanon’s troubled history. Entire neighbourhoods of the country’s capital were destroyed.
No officials have been convicted.
President Michel Aoun, and Prime Minister Najib Mikati continue to publicly back Judge Bitar. Mikati said Lebanon cannot bear the removal of a second judge from the blast probe.
However, ministers belonging to Hezbollah, Amal, and some allies have reportedly pressured the Cabinet to take a formal position against Bitar.