The state-run NNA news agency reported three deaths during clashes in the Lebanese capital. An emergency room doctor at Beirut’s al-Sahel Hospital, who did not want to be named earlier, told CNN that the hospital had received one death and nine injuries since the violence erupted.
Hundreds of Iranian-backed Hezbollah supporters and its main Shiite ally, Amal, were marching on the city’s Palace of Justice on Thursday when they fired on protesters from an unknown location, forcing demonstrators and journalists to cover themselves, according to an army. statements and local broadcasters.
There are numerous local reports of snipers firing on demonstrators from the roofs of buildings in the area. Local TV videos and social media also showed a masked protester shooting what appeared to be an AK-47 from behind road barriers and dumpsters, apparently firing back at gunmen and black smoke rising from a from nearby buildings.
In a statement Thursday, the Lebanese army, which has been widely deployed in gun shooting scenes, said it would shoot any gunmen in areas where clashes are taking place and called for people to clear the streets.
“It is very clear that those who shot at the protesters were organized armed groups that have been planning this attack since yesterday,” a senior Hezbollah official told CNN. “We will not retaliate. They want to drag us into civil strife and we do not want to sow civil strife.”
In a joint statement issued by Hezbollah and Amal, the groups called for “calm” among their supporters on the streets.
Hezbollah has been a strong opponent of Tariq Bitar, the popular judge leading the Beirut bombing, and has called for high-ranking officials to be prosecuted. This week, the judge issued an arrest warrant against lawmaker Ali Hassan Khalil, a senior Amal official and former finance minister.
Bitar has also issued arrest warrants against MP Nouhad Machnouk, an ally of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and a former interior minister.
Since his appointment in February, Bitar, who also heads the Beirut criminal court, has been seeking senior political and security officials to be questioned in the Beirut blast investigation. He is the second judicial investigator to lead the investigation. The first judge in charge of handling the investigation was fired after two former ministers accused in the investigation successfully filed a motion for his removal.
Several legal petitions by prosecuting officials to dismiss Bitari have been unsuccessful.
During a televised speech Monday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah condemned the judge, accusing him of “politicizing” him.
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