Shooting erupts in Beirut during Hezbollah protest over probe into devastating chemical blast 

At least six people were killed and a further 32 injured after armed clashes erupted in Beirut during a protest by  Militant Shia groups Hezbollah and Amal against the judge leading the probe into last year’s explosion in the city’s port.

Desperate residents were forced to find shelter behind cars and schoolchildren hid under desks after members of Shia and Christian militias armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers began exchanging fire in the streets.

An unidentified sniper also began opening fire on crowds who had gathered at the capital’s Palace of Justice.

Lebanese officials said the people were all killed by gunfire and included a 24-year-old woman who was killed by a stray bullet in her home. 

The Lebanese army deployed tanks on the streets following the violence and threatened to shoot all armed persons on the streets.  

A mother and her two children hide behind a car on the streets of Beirut earlier today after gunfire broke out during a protest by Hezbollah and its allies against the lead judge probing last year's massive blast in the city's port

A mother and her two children hide behind a car on the streets of Beirut earlier today after gunfire broke out during a protest by Hezbollah and its allies against the lead judge probing last year's massive blast in the city's port

A mother and her two children hide behind a car on the streets of Beirut earlier today after gunfire broke out during a protest by Hezbollah and its allies against the lead judge probing last year’s massive blast in the city’s port

Lebanese army special forces stand watch on a street in Beirut as two of their group held two teachers flee the school they work at after chaos broke out in the city

Lebanese army special forces stand watch on a street in Beirut as two of their group held two teachers flee the school they work at after chaos broke out in the city

Lebanese army special forces stand watch on a street in Beirut as two of their group held two teachers flee the school they work at after chaos broke out in the city

Fighters from the Shiite, Hezbollah and Amal movements take aim in the Tayouneh area of Beirut after gunfire broke out in the city during a demonstration

Fighters from the Shiite, Hezbollah and Amal movements take aim in the Tayouneh area of Beirut after gunfire broke out in the city during a demonstration

Fighters from the Shiite, Hezbollah and Amal movements take aim in the Tayouneh area of Beirut after gunfire broke out in the city during a demonstration

A fighter armed with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher is seen running down the road with the weapon on his shoulder earlier today

A fighter armed with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher is seen running down the road with the weapon on his shoulder earlier today

A fighter armed with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher is seen running down the road with the weapon on his shoulder earlier today

Two men flee to safety away from the gunfire in the streets of Beirut earlier today, with one of the men carrying a girl in his arms as he runs

Two men flee to safety away from the gunfire in the streets of Beirut earlier today, with one of the men carrying a girl in his arms as he runs

Two men flee to safety away from the gunfire in the streets of Beirut earlier today, with one of the men carrying a girl in his arms as he runs

In response to the chaos, the Lebanese military moved soldiers and armoured vehicles into the area to try and restore order

In response to the chaos, the Lebanese military moved soldiers and armoured vehicles into the area to try and restore order

In response to the chaos, the Lebanese military moved soldiers and armoured vehicles into the area to try and restore order

Two Lebanese armoured vehicles are seen positioned in the Tayouneh neighborhood in southern Beirut earlier today

Two Lebanese armoured vehicles are seen positioned in the Tayouneh neighborhood in southern Beirut earlier today

Two Lebanese armoured vehicles are seen positioned in the Tayouneh neighborhood in southern Beirut earlier today

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said many of the casualties were shot by snipers from buildings.

‘This is a very dangerous sign,’ Mawlawi told reporters. ‘No one can take this.’

The exchanges of fire involving snipers, pistols, Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades were a serious escalation of tension over the domestic probe, and the worst armed clashes since 2008, when the Shiite Hezbollah briefly overran parts of Beirut. 

Gunfire echoed in the capital for several hours and ambulances, sirens wailing, rushed to pick up casualties. Snipers shot from buildings. Bullets penetrated apartment windows in the area.  

Lebanese security forces react to gunfire in Beirut during a protest earlier today. One soldier points at a potential target while in discussion with a comrade

Lebanese security forces react to gunfire in Beirut during a protest earlier today. One soldier points at a potential target while in discussion with a comrade

Lebanese security forces react to gunfire in Beirut during a protest earlier today. One soldier points at a potential target while in discussion with a comrade

A line of Lebanese army soldier stand guard in a line with riot shields and wooden batons before the chaos broke out during today's protest

A line of Lebanese army soldier stand guard in a line with riot shields and wooden batons before the chaos broke out during today's protest

A line of Lebanese army soldier stand guard in a line with riot shields and wooden batons before the chaos broke out during today’s protest

A Lebanese army soldier is seen looking out the back of an armoured vehicle with his weapon in his hands as his team take up positions in the Tayouneh area of Beirut

A Lebanese army soldier is seen looking out the back of an armoured vehicle with his weapon in his hands as his team take up positions in the Tayouneh area of Beirut

A Lebanese army soldier is seen looking out the back of an armoured vehicle with his weapon in his hands as his team take up positions in the Tayouneh area of Beirut

A group of civilians, with panic on their faces, desperately attempt to run away from the gunfire as they evacuated their homes to safety

A group of civilians, with panic on their faces, desperately attempt to run away from the gunfire as they evacuated their homes to safety

A group of civilians, with panic on their faces, desperately attempt to run away from the gunfire as they evacuated their homes to safety

A Shiite fighter is seen lying on the floor behind a concrete barricade with his weapon in one hand and a new bullet magazine in the other as he reloads. A host of used bullet casings are scattered on the floor around him

A Shiite fighter is seen lying on the floor behind a concrete barricade with his weapon in one hand and a new bullet magazine in the other as he reloads. A host of used bullet casings are scattered on the floor around him

A Shiite fighter is seen lying on the floor behind a concrete barricade with his weapon in one hand and a new bullet magazine in the other as he reloads. A host of used bullet casings are scattered on the floor around him

The students huddled in the central corridors with the windows open to avoid major impact, in scenes reminiscent of the 1975-90 civil war. Smoke covered the neighborhood where intense gunfire was relentless. A car caught fire, while a blaze was reported in a lower floor where residents were stuck and called for help.

The violence unfolded while U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland was in the city meeting Lebanese officials. Her schedule was slightly thrown off by the action on the streets.

The demands for Bitar’s removal and calls for protest upset many.

The right wing Christian Lebanese Forces mobilized supporters Wednesday evening after Hezbollah and Amal called for the protest at the Justice Palace, located in a Christian area. Videos circulating on social media showed supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces marching in the streets, carrying large crosses.

A group of Lebanese army soldiers in armoured vehicles enter the Tayouneh area of the Lebanese capital earlier today in an attempt to restore order

A group of Lebanese army soldiers in armoured vehicles enter the Tayouneh area of the Lebanese capital earlier today in an attempt to restore order

A group of Lebanese army soldiers in armoured vehicles enter the Tayouneh area of the Lebanese capital earlier today in an attempt to restore order

A group of soldiers look focused on the job ahead as they enter Beirut to put an end to the fighting that broke out during a protest earlier today

A group of soldiers look focused on the job ahead as they enter Beirut to put an end to the fighting that broke out during a protest earlier today

A group of soldiers look focused on the job ahead as they enter Beirut to put an end to the fighting that broke out during a protest earlier today

A group of fighters take cover behind a parked car during the chaos which erupted earlier today in Beirut

A group of fighters take cover behind a parked car during the chaos which erupted earlier today in Beirut

A group of fighters take cover behind a parked car during the chaos which erupted earlier today in Beirut

Lebanese civil defence members and a group of helpers work to evacuate someone injured in the fighting earlier today

Lebanese civil defence members and a group of helpers work to evacuate someone injured in the fighting earlier today

Lebanese civil defence members and a group of helpers work to evacuate someone injured in the fighting earlier today

Guns are held up ready to be fired by these fighters on the streets of Beirut earlier today. It is currently unclear what caused the violence to break out

Guns are held up ready to be fired by these fighters on the streets of Beirut earlier today. It is currently unclear what caused the violence to break out

Guns are held up ready to be fired by these fighters on the streets of Beirut earlier today. It is currently unclear what caused the violence to break out

What was the chemical explosion in Beirut? 

On August 4, 2020, the Lebanese capital city of Beirut was rocked by a huge explosion which left as many as 218 people dead and around 7,000 others were injured.

The origin of the explosion was Warehouse 12 in the port of Beirut.

A fire in the port preceded the explosion, taking hold of the roof of the warehouse, which was situated next to two large grain silos.

Around 6pm local time a large explosion was set off and then followed by a series of smaller explosions.

30 seconds later, another, even larger explosion detonated sending a huge cloud into the sky as around 2,700 tonnes of nitroglycerine which was being stored in the warehouse exploded.

The immediate area of 460ft surrounding the warehouse was flattened by the explosion.

Nearby buildings were completely levelled and huge amounts of damage was caused to structures in the rest of the city.

It was estimated that as many as 300,000 people were made temporarily homeless. 

Following the explosion, the Lebanese government resigned in the face of mounting public anger. 

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A journalist with The Associated Press saw a man open fire with a pistol during the protest, as well as gunmen shooting in the direction of protesters from the balcony of a building. Several men fell immediately from the gunfire and bled on the tarmac. The army deployed heavily and sent patrols to the area to search for the gunmen, following the exchanges of gunfire between the Muslim and Christian sides of the capital.

A staffer at the emergency room at al-Sahel hospital said they received three bodies and 15 people who were injured. One of the dead, a woman, had had been hit by a stray bullet while inside her home. Two of the 15 injured were in critical condition.

In a statement, Prime Minister Najib Mikati appealed for calm and urged people ‘not to be dragged into civil strife.’

The probe centers on hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored at a port warehouse that detonated on August 4, 2020, killing at least 215 people, injuring thousands and destroying parts of nearby neighborhoods. 

It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and has further devastated the country already roiled by political divisions and unprecedented economic and financial meltdown.

Bitar, the second judge to lead the complicated investigation, has come up against formidable opposition from Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group and its allies who accuse him of singling out politicians for questioning, most of them allied with Hezbollah.

None of Hezbollah’s officials have so far been charged in the 14-month-old investigation.

The shooting continued even after army troops deployed to the area Thursday, with the sound of exchange of fire ringing over their heads. Residents and civilians in the area were ducking to avoid the shooting, some screaming: ‘Some martyrs on the ground!’ 

People pulled one man who was apparently shot and down, away from the line of fire. Others pulled another body away.

In some videos circulating online, some men were chatting: ‘Shiite Shiite’ on the streets, as residents were running from the gunfire.

Haneen Chemaly, a resident of Furn el-Chebbak and mother of a 6-month old girl, said she first moved to the corridor before running to the shelter because the sound of gunfire was terrifying from her 10th-floor apartment.

‘I did it for my child,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what is happening. I can just hear the sound of gunfire.’

She said there was no electricity for her to follow on TV what was going on, so she knew nothing of the situation on the ground and opted for safety. 

After spending some time in the shelter, she moved to the first floor to stay with her neighbors away from the fire.

‘I know there was so much mobilization from the night before, all predicting that a war would erupt,’ Chemaly, who heads a local NGOs that provides social services, said. Civil war erupting ‘is the last card they have to use. They have (driven) us into bankruptcy, devastation and now they are scaring us with the specter of civil war.’

The armed clash could derail the country’s month-old government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati even before it begins tackling Lebanon’s unprecedented economic crisis.

A Cabinet meeting was canceled Wednesday after Hezbollah demanded urgent government action against the judge. One Hezbollah-allied minister said he and other Cabinet members would stage a walkout if Bitar isn’t removed.

A group of civilians hold hands and run across a street as they attempt to flee their homes and put some distance between themselves and the shooting

A group of civilians hold hands and run across a street as they attempt to flee their homes and put some distance between themselves and the shooting

A group of civilians hold hands and run across a street as they attempt to flee their homes and put some distance between themselves and the shooting

A Lebanese teacher cowers in fear next to a soldier, as the sound of gunfire echoes round the city of Beirut following the breakout of armed violence

A Lebanese teacher cowers in fear next to a soldier, as the sound of gunfire echoes round the city of Beirut following the breakout of armed violence

A Lebanese teacher cowers in fear next to a soldier, as the sound of gunfire echoes round the city of Beirut following the breakout of armed violence

Teachers are seen seeking shelter behind soldiers and concrete walls, as well as holding bags above their heads to try and shield themselves from potential gunfire

Teachers are seen seeking shelter behind soldiers and concrete walls, as well as holding bags above their heads to try and shield themselves from potential gunfire

Teachers are seen seeking shelter behind soldiers and concrete walls, as well as holding bags above their heads to try and shield themselves from potential gunfire

A group of fighters gather together behind a parked car, with one taking aim, a second covering his ears, and a third seen holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher

A group of fighters gather together behind a parked car, with one taking aim, a second covering his ears, and a third seen holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher

A group of fighters gather together behind a parked car, with one taking aim, a second covering his ears, and a third seen holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher

The level of gunfire on display in Beirut is laid bare by the number of bullet holes this building is riddled with. Windows are also seen full of holes or completely smashed

The level of gunfire on display in Beirut is laid bare by the number of bullet holes this building is riddled with. Windows are also seen full of holes or completely smashed

The level of gunfire on display in Beirut is laid bare by the number of bullet holes this building is riddled with. Windows are also seen full of holes or completely smashed

A gruesome trail of blood is seen running down a road in Beirut earlier today, with footprints marked on the floor after having trodden in the blood

A gruesome trail of blood is seen running down a road in Beirut earlier today, with footprints marked on the floor after having trodden in the blood

A gruesome trail of blood is seen running down a road in Beirut earlier today, with footprints marked on the floor after having trodden in the blood

Despite the back windshield of this vehicle having been shot out, these two fighters hunker down, with weapons in hand

Despite the back windshield of this vehicle having been shot out, these two fighters hunker down, with weapons in hand

Despite the back windshield of this vehicle having been shot out, these two fighters hunker down, with weapons in hand

A fighter is seen carefully peering up towards the rooftop on a street in Beirut, with a second fighter placing a hand on his back. A statement from Hezbollah claims that the groups demonstrating earlier today initially came under fire from snipers on rooftops

A fighter is seen carefully peering up towards the rooftop on a street in Beirut, with a second fighter placing a hand on his back. A statement from Hezbollah claims that the groups demonstrating earlier today initially came under fire from snipers on rooftops

A fighter is seen carefully peering up towards the rooftop on a street in Beirut, with a second fighter placing a hand on his back. A statement from Hezbollah claims that the groups demonstrating earlier today initially came under fire from snipers on rooftops

Another building bares the scars of gunfire as its large windows are completely smashed and a number of bullet holes can be seen running up the face of the structure

Another building bares the scars of gunfire as its large windows are completely smashed and a number of bullet holes can be seen running up the face of the structure

Another building bares the scars of gunfire as its large windows are completely smashed and a number of bullet holes can be seen running up the face of the structure

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