Beirut port blast: Six dead as armed clashes erupt in Lebanese capital against judge leading probe
Armed clashes erupted in Beirut during a protest organised by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah
At least six people have been killed and dozens more injured by gunfire in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
The deaths occurred as armed clashes broke out during a protest demanding an end to a judicial investigation into last year’s massive blast in the city’s port.
The demonstration was led by the Shia Muslim groups Hezbollah and Amal, who protested outside the Justice Palace to demand the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar.
Lebanon’s interior minister, Bassam Mawlawi, said many of those injured were shot by snipers from buildings. He described the events as "a very dangerous sign".
The protest also saw exchanges of fire involving, pistols, rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Amid the chaos, four projectiles fell near a private French school, causing panic, a security official said.
The students huddled in the central corridors with the windows open to avoid major impact.
Huge tension surrounds the probe into the port explosion in August 2020, which was caused by up to 2,750 tonnes of weapons-grade ammonium nitrate igniting after a fire.
Senior officials were aware of the material's existence and the risk it presented but failed to remove or destroy it.
ITV News Correspondent John Ray reported on the deadly blast last August
Swathes of Beirut were destroyed by the catastrophic blast which killed 219 people.
Residents reported feeling the impact from miles away from the epicentre. No-one has yet been held accountable for the disaster.
Mr Bitar, the second judge to lead the investigation into the explosion, has faced opposition from Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group and its allies who accuse him of bias.
While the victims' families support his work, the militant group have said the judge is singling out politicians for questioning - most of them allied with Hezbollah.
Earlier on Thursday, a court threw out a second attempt to remove Mr Bitar, whose investigation is considered by many to be a make-or-break event for the bankrupt state crippled by financial woes and political divisions.
Hezbollah and Amal have reportedly accused a staunch opponent, the Christian Lebanese Forces party, of being behind the attack on the protesters - a claim that has been denied.
It was not immediately clear what triggered the gunfire earlier on Thursday, but tensions were high along a former civil war front line between Muslim Shiite and Christian areas.
In a statement, Prime Minister Najib Mikati appealed for calm and urged people “not to be dragged into civil strife”.
A cabinet meeting was cancelled on Wednesday after Hezbollah demanded urgent government action against the judge.
One Hezbollah-allied minister said he and other cabinet members would stage a walkout if Judge Tarek Bitar was not removed.