Armed clashes in Beirut are ‘fertile ground for a civil war’

Screenshot from a video taken on October 14 in Beirut showing a man taking cover behind an ambulance while firing an automatic weapon.
Screenshot from a video taken on October 14 in Beirut showing a man taking cover behind an ambulance while firing an automatic weapon. © Twitter

Armed men exchanged fire from snipers, rocket launchers and automatic weapons in the streets of Beirut on October 14, during a rally organised by Shiite parties Hezbollah and Amal to demand the removal of the judge in charge of the Beirut port explosion probe. At least seven people have been killed and 30 others injured in the clashes. According to our Observers, the unrest and looming fear harken back to the days of civil war (1975-1990).

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Snipers in buildings fired at protesters from Hezbollah and Amal, a Shiite political party, who were heading toward the Beirut Court of Justice Thursday morning. Some of the protesters returned the fire with automatic weapons, while panicked civilians ran for cover. Videos on social media show chaotic scenes taking place in the Tayouneh neighbourhood, in the suburbs of Beirut.

The video below shows armed men, presumably Hezbollah or Amal combatants, taking cover behind dumpsters as they shoot toward buildings near a central intersection in Tayouneh.

Men hiding behind dumpsters fire back at gunshots coming from buildings in Tayouneh.
Dozens Of Residents Rush In The Streets To Flee The Gunfire Near Central Tayouneh.

The Lebanese government deployed the army to the neighbourhood, while Prime Minister Najib Mikati appealed for calm. Still, the clashes continue. Some people shot off rocket launchers, while others filmed the snipers who were posted on rooftops.

In this video, one person on a rooftop fires his weapon. The FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to pinpoint the location of these images: they occurred in the adjacent neighbourhood of Ain El Emmaneh, near Old Saida Road. 

This video shows an individual on the roof of a building in Ain el Remmaneh, Beirut, firing a weapon on October 14.
The sniper was located on the roof of the building outlined in red.
The sniper was located on the roof of the building outlined in red. Observers

In a joint statement, Hezbollah and Amal accused groups belonging to the Lebanese Forces, a Christian political party and former militia, of “being deployed in the streets and on the roofs of buildings to shoot and kill protesters”. 

The leader of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Gegea, on the other hand, has repeatedly accused Hezbollah in recent days of trying to “intimidate” the government into dismissing Judge Tarek Bitar, who is in charge of the investigation into the Beirut port explosion. Gegea said he would not accept that the government “give in to this pressure.”

‘It’s fertile ground for a civil war’

Joumanah Zabaneh was at home when she heard the first shots ring out.

My main worry was for my husband who works in the Tayouneh neighbourhood, and for my children, whose school is close to the site of the unrest. I went out, still in slippers, to go get them and I found my husband outside of the school. There were a lot of parents there in a panic. 

We returned home but the way that usually takes us ten minutes took us half an hour. We heard the shots, they were about a kilometre away. We hid regularly, behind a car, behind a tree. My biggest fear was to be hit by a stray bullet – there have been plenty of victims of this in Lebanon. When we got home, I put the children in the hallway, it’s the safest place without any windows. My older daughter is 8 years old and she is already traumatised by the Beirut port explosion, she was treated for that. And now I have to explain to her what is happening and I don’t know what to say.

Photos show children taking cover in a hallway and under their desks, at a school in Beirut.

On TV, we heard that the army said they were controlling the situation, but at the same time, I heard shots. How can you claim that the army is controlling anything? 

I was born in 1976 and I lived through the civil war. What I did this morning is exactly what my parents did: go get the children from school, run and hide at home in fear. There have been major mobilisations lately, people who protest, others who counter-protest. When you’ve been through the civil war and then you see this, I can tell you that it makes you think it could happen again. 

I think we will soon know what will happen: if the parties don’t reach an agreement, it means that there is a risk of falling back into civil war. And what we saw today shows that they are ready to go back to civil war. We saw snipers on the buildings, it's not normal. We saw people very tense, defending their politics. It’s fertile ground for a civil war.

As the sporadic gunfire rang out throughout the day on Thursday, videos posted on social media showed Hezbollah combatants armed with automatic weapons and rocket launchers heading toward Tayouneh.

Photos show Hezbollah combatants heading toward Tayouneh, Beirut on Octobre 14.

‘These clashes took place in an area that was the very front line of the civil war’

Jamil B, a communications manager, lives in Beirut.

I’ve never seen this level of violence in Beirut. These clashes took place in an area that was the very front line of the civil war. 

Kataeb [a Christian political party also known as Phalanges] militants carried out an attack targeting a bus on April 13, 1975 in the Ain El Remmaneh neighbourhood. It was in an avenue separating a Shiite neighbourhood from a Maronite neighbourhood, and is at the root of the civil war that lasted 15 years.

For 15 years, members of the Lebanese Forces [a Christian militia] posted in the Ain El Remmaneh area exchanged fire with their enemies in the Shiite Amal Movement, who operated in the Tayouneh area. That’s not much different from the scenes we saw today.

The neighbourhood had been deserted by the civilian population and was in the hands of armed groups for a long time.

So today’s unrest reminded us of these painful memories of the war. I saw how people ran in a panic through the streets to escape the bullets. 

Lebanese people are really afraid. We are afraid that these clashes will spread to other neighbourhoods, other towns and that we’ll slip into a new civil war. 

My family, who live in a village in the south of the country, asked me to come back. I will wait and see.

Hezbollah and Amal have demanded that Judge Tarek Bitar be dismissed from the Beirut explosion probe. On October 12, Bitar issued an arrest warrant for former minister of finance Ali Hassan Khalil, part of the Amal movement. Thursday’s unrest came after a court dismissed a legal complaint against the judge filed by Khalil and another Amal ex-minister. 

The double explosion in Beirut on August 4, 2020, caused by the improper storage of large quantities of ammonium nitrate, killed at least 214 people and injured more than 6,500. Several political figures, including former prime minister Hassan Diab, have been summoned for criminal negligence but failed to appear.