The shootings began near a Hezbollah-led protest demanding the removal of a judge from the Beirut bombing investigation.
Beirut, Lebanon – At least one person was killed and several others were injured in a gun battle near a Hezbollah-led protest in Beirut.
Hundreds of Hezbollah supporters and black-clad allies gathered at the Beirut Justice Palace on Thursday, calling for the removal of Judge Tariq Bitar from the Beirut port investigation into the bombing, accusing him of being biased and an “American slave.”
The sound of gunfire was heard from the roof of the nearby Taiyun neighborhood, dispersing the agitated protesters.
The Lebanese army intervened, arresting a gunman. The identity and involvement of the attackers is still unclear.
A source at Sahel General Hospital in Beirut told Al Jazeera that at least one person was killed and eight were injured.
The protest comes two days after Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s resignation was met with the strongest criticism to date. Nasrallah in his investigation accused Bitar of “politically targeting” officials.
Mehdin Lajkani, 29, who lost his father in the blast, said he feared protesters were rallying against Beatr instead of the country’s rulers as Lebanon’s economy continued to grow.
“It’s scandalous in every sense of the word,” Lajkani told Al Jazeera. “At 21 21,000 in Lebanon, there is no electricity or medicine, yet they think they should protest and replace Judge Vitar?”
The Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value in two years, while the power crisis has paralyzed public life. According to the United Nations, about three-quarters of the population lives in poverty. The majority of Lebanese people blame the crisis on widespread corruption and financial mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling party and banks.
Bitter has spent months trying to follow former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil, Gazi Jaiter, Nawhad Machnuk, Yusuf Finianos and former Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Khalil and Jaitar belong to the Amal movement, a Shiite group led by Speaker Nabih Berri and closely associated with Hezbollah.
The judge asked General Security Chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim and State Security Head Major General Tony Saliba to be summoned. However, the Interior Ministry and the Higher Defense Council did not allow him to do so.
Khalil and Jaiter filed a legal complaint on Tuesday, forcing Bitar to temporarily suspend the investigation moments after an arrest warrant was issued against Khalil. The European Union and the U.S. State Department have called for a resumption of the investigation without hindrance.
An explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020 killed more than 200 people and injured more than 500, when huge stockpiles of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored unsafe at the port for years, exploded.
The blast is one of the largest non-nuclear explosions recorded and the most devastating single incident in Lebanon’s turbulent history. The whole area of the country’s capital has been destroyed.
No officer has been convicted.
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati have publicly backed Judge Bitar. Mikati said Lebanon could not tolerate the removal of the second judge from the blast investigation.
However, Hezbollah, Amal and some coalition ministers have reportedly pressured the cabinet to take a formal stand against Bitter.