Lebanon army probes soldier over firing at protesters | News | DW | 17.10.2021

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Lebanon army probes soldier over firing at protesters

The army is investigating a soldier suspected of firing toward protesters during Thursday's deadly clashes over the Beirut blast probe. Meanwhile, families of the blast victims have backed the judge leading the probe.

Lebanese army stand guard near the Justice Palace as supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal groups protest against Judge Tarek Bitar who is investigating last year's deadly seaport blast, in Beirut

The recent violence in Lebanon was reminiscent of the country's catastrophic 1975-1990 civil war

The Lebanese army has said it was probing a soldier suspected of firing toward protesters in Beirut on Thursday.

Seven people died in the clashes that broke out near the site of a demonstration against the judge heading an inquiry into a deadly port blast in Beirut last year.

"Videos showing military shooting at demonstrators during clashes that broke out two days ago in the Tayouna [Teyouneh] area have spread through social media," the army said in a statement on Facebook on Saturday, adding that "the military shooter is under investigation under the supervision of the competent jurisdiction."

On Thursday, the country saw its worst violence in over a decade when gun battles erupted on the streets of Beirut in deadly sectarian clashes.

The violence was reminiscent of the country's catastrophic 1975-1990 civil war.

A protest outside the Justice Palace was called by Hezbollah and its supporters demanding the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the inquiry into the August 4, 2020, port explosion.

The army had earlier said rounds were fired at demonstrators as they crossed the Teyouneh traffic circle that divides Christian and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods.

It later said there had been an "altercation and exchange of fire" as protesters were on their way to the demonstration.

Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah and Lebanese Forces, a right-wing Christian political party, have blamed each other for the clashes.

Christian leader: Blast investigation should not be stopped

Two days after the fierce violence, the leader of Lebanon's largest Christian bloc — the Free Patriotic movement (FPM) — said the probe into the port blast should not be stopped.

"The Free Patriotic movement is with [for] continuing the probe, revealing the truth and putting those responsible on trial," said Gebran Bassil on Saturday.

Bassil's stance is in contrast to that of Hezbollah, an FPM ally.

Hezbollah opposes the inquiry, with leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah saying it is biased and politicized.

Watch video 02:03

Lebanon PM calls day of mourning after clashes

On Saturday, Bassil said there was evidence that pointed to some bias during the probe, but added there was no evidence yet that Judge Bitar was politicized.

Families reaffirm support for judge, spokesman steps down

Relatives of the victims of the port explosion reiterated their support for Bitar on Saturday, despite calls for his ouster.

"We, the families of more than 200 martyrs and thousands of injured and hundreds of thousands of people who suffered damages, have put our faith in investigative judge Tarek Bitar," a statement from the families said.

The statement came a day after the spokesperson for the families released a video on social media, late Friday, in which he called on Bitar to step down.

The spokesperson— Ibrahim Hoteit — resigned on Saturday, following concerns he had been intimidated into calling for Bitar's dismissal.

Hoteit has denied allegations that he recorded the video under duress.

dvv/sri (AFP, AP, Reuters)