Rash of violence in Beirut awakens specter of dark years in Lebanon

Lebanese army columns are posted around the Tayyouneh crossroads, along the road that delimits the predominantly Christian district of Aïn El-Remmaneh from that of Chiyah, which is predominantly Shiite, in the heart of Beirut.

Dozens of young men ride on scooters and immortalize the scars of the clashes that pitted, a few hours earlier, Thursday, October 14, the two neighborhoods where a proletariat of workers and small traders lives. The impacts on the cars, the debris of the windows which exploded under the bullets and the remains of rockets: on each side of the road, once again a border as in the time of the civil war (1975-1990) when it drew the line of demarcation between West Beirut and East Beirut, the inhabitants are busy erasing these traces.

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The eruption of violence, which left six dead on the Shiite side and thirty-two injured, terrorized children in surrounding schools and scared entire families away, rekindled memories of the dark years. In the collective unconscious, the district of Aïn El-Remmaneh is the place where the spark of war had sprung up on April 13, 1975. Community reflexes and political polarization have been revived since 2019, as and when that Lebanon was sinking into the economic crisis, then with the explosion in the port of Beirut, in August 2020. To such an extent that some fear that the escalation orchestrated by the Shiite movements Hezbollah and Amal around the investigation into this drama is not the prelude to a new bellicose cycle.

The Shiite tandem called for a demonstration on Thursday in front of the Beirut courthouse to denounce the “Politicization” the investigating judge, Tarek Bitar. Suspected of being no stranger to the presence of explosive substances at the port, Hezbollah is on the defensive. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, raised the tone on Monday in the face of the judge’s stubbornness in questioning senior officials, including two former ministers of Amal. The Shiite ministers threatened to resign if the government did not step in to remove the magistrate. “There is a deliberate will to force a coup against the justice system. They are firing on all cylinders. It seems clear that something is worrying them in the investigation, they want to control all the cogs ”, analysis Karim Bitar, director of the political science department of Saint Joseph University in Beirut.

Do not give in to “intimidation”

The day before the demonstration, Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces (FL), a party from a former Christian militia, called not to give in to the « intimidations » of the powerful Shiite movement. The Christian community remains convinced that the explosion of the port was an attack directed against them, for which Hezbollah bears the responsibility. The prospect of Party of God supporters walking through its neighborhoods, seen as a provocation, stoked fears. On social networks, messages beat the recall of Christian factions to prevent the march from reaching East Beirut.

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