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Defense Minister: “An unfortunate incident, not an ambush” sparked protest violence in Beirut

BEIRUT: The bloody shootings that took place in the streets of Beirut last week were caused by an “unfortunate incident, not an ambush,” the country’s Defense Minister Maurice Selim said on Monday.
Last Thursday’s clashes left seven dead and 32 injured, after a protest against the judge investigating the Beirut port explosion turned violent.
Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal movement, who want Judge Tarek Bitar removed from the case, staged the protest.
Hezbollah accused the party of the Lebanese Forces, which supports Bitar, of firing on the population during the demonstration.
But Selim told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation: “The demonstration deviated from its course and clashes broke out. The circumstances of what happened remain to be determined by the ongoing investigation, which is based on facts and evidence to hold those responsible to account. “
The site of the armed clashes was between the Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Shiyah and the Christian quarter of Ain Al-Rummaneh, with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Security footage at one of the entrances to the Ain Al-Rummaneh neighborhood has gone viral, upsetting claims that protesters have been subjected to deliberate sniper fire from the rooftops of residential buildings.
The footage showed a member of the Lebanese army shooting at a person who insisted on bypassing the military checkpoint and entering Ain Al-Rummaneh.
It was chaos when this person was shot. People threw stones and there was an exchange of gunfire.
The army command said: “The soldier who fired is under arrest and is under investigation by the competent justice system.”
So far, 20 people from both sides of the violence have been arrested.
Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan accused the Lebanese Forces of “massacre” against peaceful protesters, despite the video showing a soldier shooting them.
“Hezbollah thinks the criminal and the killer are the Lebanese Forces. But the resistance, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement will not be drawn into a civil war, because they are aware of this malicious plot implemented by the Lebanese Forces, ”he added.
The incident turned into a political and legal dilemma.
Hezbollah and Amal ministers are refraining from cabinet sessions until Bitar is removed from the investigation and “the perpetrators and those involved in the Tayyouneh incident, the gunmen, the snipers, their operators, their commanders, their leaders and anyone who has anything to do with this case is brought to justice, ”Hajj Hassan said.
The Lebanese administration has been inoperative since last Friday. Friday was a national day of mourning, followed by the weekend.
All the institutions will resume their work on Tuesday, including the parliament, which is holding a plenary session and restoring the immunity of deputies, in particular those whom Bitar had called for questioning.
MP Qassem Hachem, of the Development and Liberation bloc, denied any information regarding an accelerated bill aimed at establishing an exceptional judicial body whose competence would examine the decisions, procedures and arrests carried out by Bitar, with the exception of of the indictment he issued to reach public trials before the Judicial Council.
“This case contradicts the constitutional principles that we wish to respect. The bill needs a constitutional amendment and it’s not on the table, ”Hashem said.
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati insisted on the independence of the judiciary and called for non-interference in judicial affairs.
It is not for the Supreme Judicial Council to fire Bitar or force him to take a certain course in the investigation.
However, the course of Bitar’s investigation is still under pressure.
On Monday, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, expressed his fear regarding coexistence, the National Accord Document and the constitution.
“We must adhere to justice, but along a clear path so that people are not divided on justice, as well as on politics,” he said and warned against this “suicidal path” on which everyone was jumping “with enthusiasm”.
He called it an atmosphere that reminded people of the start of the Civil War.
“Every sane Lebanese should refrain from engaging in suicidal actions and insist on the constitution, coexistence and civil peace. It is forbidden to fight in the street for any reason. Solutions can be found by peaceful means, not by using uncontrolled weapons on the streets, especially in the capital, killing people and violating their sanctity. “
On Sunday, the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said harming national peace and good neighborliness was unacceptable, regardless of the source.
“We refuse to go back to arbitrary accusations, to sectarian mobilization, to attempts at isolation, to compromise on regulations, to fabricate cases against this or that group, to choose scapegoats, and to replace justice with revenge .
He stressed the need to respect the law and the judiciary, and avoid political, sectarian and partisan interference. “We must respect the independence of the judiciary and let it correct what needs to be corrected by its judicial methods.
Al-Rai called on the Cabinet to meet, as each minister must respect judicial authority and exercise responsibility on behalf of the Lebanese people, and not on “behalf of influential figures”.
“Force does not frighten believers in Lebanon. There is no weak party in Lebanon. We are all strong in our right to exist freely and our loyalty to the homeland without any interference. “

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