Kamis, 14 Oktober 2021

'I feel totally unsafe': Armed men trade fire in Beirut as protest turns violent amid Lebanon's economic collapse - ABC News

A Lebanese family have told of their horror as a stray bullet struck their apartment during heavy fighting in the streets of Beirut on Thursday.

At least six people were shot dead and more than a dozen others were injured in the fighting that broke out following a protest demanding the removal of the judge investigating an explosion that ripped through the city's port last year.

Sonia Chabbi and her two daughters were sheltering in their apartment not far from the fighting when they heard a loud noise in their living room.

Beirut resident Sonia Chabbi gestures as she speaks to the ABC following protests that turned violent.
Beirut resident Sonia Chabbi speaks to the ABC.(ABC: Supplied)

"We were in the bedroom, we were talking … and all of a sudden, we hear, like, this sound and a ricocheting of something metallic," Ms Chabbi told the ABC from her apartment.

"I thought it was the light bulb, you know when the light bulb explodes or something.

Outside, heavy gunfire could be heard echoing through the high-rise apartment blocks of Beirut and video shared on social media showed men brandishing rifles and rocket-propelled grenades running through the streets.

A window pane is shown shattered following the violence on Beirut's streets.
A window of a Beirut home shattered during the violence.

Hundreds of armed Hezbollah supporters wearing black had gathered in the neighbourhood of the Beirut Justice Palace on Thursday, calling for the removal of judge Tarek Bitar from the Beirut port explosion probe, accusing him of bias.

Mr Bitar is the head of Beirut's criminal court and the judge in charge of the investigation into the August 2020 explosion.

The gunfire erupted after the Shia Muslim protesters said they were targeted by snipers from a rival Christian faction.

The Lebanese army brought in armoured vehicles to contain the situation and arrested nine people.

Pictures and footage circulated in WhatsApp groups showed children cowering in corridors in a school, and a lifeless body being dragged from the street by bystanders.

Three men carry an elderly woman out of a building on a chair as they evacuate following gunfire in Beirut.
Men helped to evacuate an elderly woman as the gunfire continued.(Reuters: Mohamed Azakir)

The port explosion was one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts in history. It killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the capital.

A year on, no top official has been held accountable, and senior government officials, who are allies of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, have refused to front the inquiry.

The impasse has become a microcosm of Lebanese politics, as the crippled state battles a series of economic crises.

A partially destroyed building at the site of the Beirut port explosion amid multi-coloured containers
The Beirut port explosion killed more than 200 people.(REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo)

'Hostages of the state'

Ms Chabbi returned to Beirut from Paris the night before the fighting broke out and said the situation in Beirut was deteriorating rapidly.

The ongoing fuel crisis means she has on average just 11 hours of electricity a day. In many other parts of Lebanon the situation is even worse.

She takes her salary in cash because the economic collapse means money is scarce.

"We're all being taken hostage – consider ourselves hostages of the state — because what they are doing to us really, really is not normal."

Ms Chabbi and her daughters are trying to live a normal life but she still feels quite anxious about the ongoing situation.

"It's getting on my nerves but at the same time I don't have any other option because my life is here. We have to be careful," she said.

"I have a roof over my head, I can still fill up gas. I can still buy food and all that. I consider myself fortunate compared to other people."

She lived through the hardship of the civil war between 1975 and 1990 and fears history is repeating itself.

"Is this what I want my kids to live through?

"There were very scary moments, the civil war back in the 80s was really scary.

'Everyone around us is thinking of leaving'

Lebanese army special forces soldiers protect teachers as they flee their school.
Lebanese army special forces soldiers protected civilians as they fled.(AP: Hussein Malla)

The fighting in Beirut lasted several hours, and some of the clashes, featuring the use of rocket-propelled grenades, were reminiscent of the previous civil war.

It was also the worst violence since 2008, when followers of the Sunni-led government fought street battles in Beirut against Hezbollah militiamen.

Those clashes lasted until the government backtracked on some decisions which affected Hezbollah, including taking steps against a telecommunications network operated by the group.

Abdallah Kassem, a surgeon dentist, lives in the neighbourhood of the clashes.

He was preparing for work when he heard the gunfire on the streets.

Two Lebanese Army soldiers stand on a street lined with rubble after a protest became violent in Beirut.
The Lebanese army brought in armoured vehicles to contain the situation.(Reuters: Mohamed Azakir)

He told the ABC that he instantly switched to survivor mode.

"I heard the first RPG and the whole building shook. We opened the windows, stayed away from the windows and we (with his partner) did all these survival attitudes we are trained with well in Lebanon," he said.

"My knees were hurting, I couldn't really walk. It got me really agitated".

When the fighting subsided, he packed his belongings and fled from the city.

"I'm totally feeling unsafe," he said.

"It's been three years and everything is so difficult in Lebanon. Everyone around us is thinking of leaving. It was right next to my house.

"This one is different because we don't know who they're fighting. And they are Lebanese fighting Lebanese.'

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2021-10-14 20:26:21Z

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