Security forces fired tear gas early on Monday amid confrontations in central Beirut between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, and demonstrators protesting against Lebanon’s political elite.
Lebanon has faced five weeks of anti-government protests, fuelled by anger at corruption among the sectarian politicians who have governed the country for decades. Demonstrators want all of them gone from power.
Iran-backed Hezbollah and Amal were both represented in the coalition government led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned on October 29 after the protests began.
The heavily-armed Hezbollah had opposed Hariri’s resignation.
The confrontations began after dozens of Hezbollah supporters arrived on scooters and attacked the protesters with clubs and metal rods. Riot police and soldiers then formed a human barrier, separating the two sides.
Groups of young men threw stones at each other for hours, with security forces in the middle.
Several people were beaten and injured. A few Hezbollah supporters held up the Shia group’s large yellow flag, waving it and taunting the protesters on the other side.
The confrontations were some of the worst since protests erupted in Lebanon in the middle of last month, with demonstrators demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has governed for three decades.
“Shiites, Shiites, Shiites,” the Hezbollah supporters shouted. Some fired flares in the direction of security forces and protesters on the other side who responded with: “Hezbollah is terrorist.”
The attacks occurred after protesters blocked a major intersection known as the Ring Road that links eastern neighbourhoods of the capital with western parts. Protesters simultaneously closed roads in areas north of Beirut and in the eastern Bekaa Valley.
Hezbollah supporters have attacked the main protest camp in central Beirut on at least two occasions, destroying tents set up by protesters.
Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said the nationwide protests have been exploited by foreign powers and are no longer spontaneous. He has warned they could drag Lebanon towards civil war and says protesters must stop blocking roads and paralysing the country.
The nationwide protests were triggered by proposed new taxes and followed an austerity budget that cut public spending, pensions and employee benefits to tackle a deepening economic crisis.
They have since evolved into calls for the entire political class, of which Hezbollah is part, to leave.