Lebanese army arrests nine people after Beirut violence

President Michel Aoun vows to bring perpetrators to justice, as six killed by gunfire and more than 30 others wounded.

Lebanese soldiers patrol in Beirut after hours of clashes [Anwar Amro/AFP]

The Lebanese Army has said it arrested nine people, including a Syrian, after gunfire erupted on Thursday in Beirut, leaving at least six dead and dozens wounded, according to the Lebanese Red Cross.

Soldiers were deployed on the streets to contain the violence as an undeclared truce brought calm to the Lebanese capital, after nearly five hours of heavy gunfire.

Clashes had erupted as a rally organised by the Hezbollah and Amal movements to demand the dismissal of the lead investigator into last year’s port explosion turned violent.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Beirut Palace of Justice, calling for the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar, accusing him of political bias.

Bursts of gunfire were heard coming from the nearby Tayyoune neighbourhood, scattering the angry protesters. Clashes between rival factions lasted for hours.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun pledged to catch those responsible for the violence and hold them accountable.

“It took us back to the days that we said we would never forget and never repeat,” he said in a televised address, referring to the country’s 15-year civil war from 1975 until 1990.

Here were the updates from Thursday:

What is behind the violence in Beirut?

Mark Daou, a professor of communications at the American University of Beirut, gave Al Jazeera his take on Lebanon’s worst street violence in years.

He slammed militias who he said undermine the government and the judiciary, and mobilise people to commit violence in the streets, as well as Lebanon’s political class and those accused of negligence over the 2020 port explosion.

“Six people died today, tens of people injured, a lot of destruction – all because two corrupt ministers do not want to attend a hearing with a judge who has accused them of negligence … they are both now running away from justice.”

US urges ‘de-escalation of tensions’ in Lebanon

The United States called for an easing of tensions in Lebanon after deadly violence in Beirut sparked fears of a return to sectarian strife.

“We join Lebanese authorities in their call for calm, their calls for a de-escalation of tensions,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

Lebanon’s PM says violence a setback but would be overcome

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati told Reuters news agency that Thursday’s events were a setback to the government but would be overcome.

“Lebanon is going through a difficult phase not an easy one. We are like a patient in front of the emergency room,” Mikati said in an interview.

“We have a lot of stages after that to complete recovery.”

Lebanon to hold day of public mourning on Friday, PM says

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced on Twitter that Friday would be a day of public mourning for those killed in Beirut.

Six people were shot dead in Beirut, in an attack on supporters of Hezbollah and an allied Lebanese party who were gathering to demand the removal of the judge investigating last year’s devastating Beirut port blast.

Lebanese army arrests nine people after Beirut violence

Lebanon’s army said it arrested nine people, including a Syrian, after violence erupted earlier in the day in Beirut, leaving at least six killed and dozens wounded.

The army said on Twitter that it remained deployed in the area to ensure violence did not break out again.

Shia Amal movement and Hezbollah fighters pass Lebanese Army soldiers that were deployed amid clashes in Beirut [Anwar Amro/AFP]

UN chief calls for halt to Lebanon violence

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all concerned in Lebanon to immediately halt acts of violence and refrain from provocative actions or inflammatory rhetoric, a UN spokesman said.

Guterres reiterates the need for an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the 2020 explosion at the Beirut port, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Events a message to Hezbollah, says analyst

Rami Khouri, director of global engagement at the American University of Beirut, told Al Jazeera that it was unusual for Lebanese people to openly stand up to Hezbollah.

“I think what’s really new and significant, is you have people in Lebanon standing up to Hezbollah, openly, even with arms to a limited level … and this is a sign that Hezbollah’s power, while it is dominant in the country, is not necessarily applauded by all Lebanese,” he told Al Jazeera.

Khouri said Hezbollah’s strengths are in its military prowess and in supporting their constituencies with social activism, but that the group lacks political skills.

“Hezbollah is really in a difficult situation. There are the strongest party in Lebanon by all counts. But politically, they are not so strong – they are not very proficient at political bargaining … they have to learn this if they want to play the political game.”

Lebanese president vows to hold accountable those behind violence

President Michel Aoun said in a brief address to the nation that the clashes were a “painful and unacceptable scene”.

“It took us back to the days that we said we would never forget and never repeat,” he said in his televised address, referring to the country’s 15-year civil war from 1975 until 1990.

In this photo released by the Lebanese government, Lebanese president Michel Aoun addressees a speech, in the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Aoun tol
Lebanese president Michel Aoun addressees the nation [File: Dalati Nohra/AP]

Kuwait calls on its citizens to leave Lebanon

Kuwait called on its citizens to leave Lebanon and told those wishing to travel there to wait, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said its embassy in Beirut “calls upon Kuwaiti citizens present there to exercise caution and to stay away from sites of gatherings and security disturbances in some areas and to stay in their residences”.

Lebanese ex-PM Hariri says Beirut violence reminiscent of civil war

Lebanon’s former prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, said on Twitter that the violence that erupted in Beirut was reminiscent of the 1975-1990 civil war and that it was “unacceptable on all levels”.

“What happened in Beirut today, the scenes of shooting and shelling and the dispersion of armed groups brought us back to the memory and images of the civil war, which we strongly reject and condemn,” said Hariri.

Lebanese former prime minister Saad al-Hariri also extended his condolences to the families of the victims [File: Dalati Nohra/Reuters]

Escalation reflects ‘structural weakness’

Speaking from Doha, Rami Khouri, director of global engagement at the American University of Beirut, said Thursday’s violence was “another manifestation of underlying structural weaknesses” that have continued in Lebanon since the 1950s.

“For years now, people in Lebanon threaten civil strife if their demands are not met. It is a terrible situation where violence has become the currency of the political situation. It is a system that does not serve the majority of people anymore,” he added.

Khouri added that protests on the streets over the past two years have reflected that the majority of the Lebanese people want to reform that system.

Lebanese PM apologises after violence in Beirut

Prime Minister Najib Mikati apologised to the Lebanese people after violent clashes earlier in the day left at least six dead and dozens wounded.

In an interview with Annahar newspaper, Mikati said he was informed by the army that the security situation in the capital has now improved.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the security situation in Beirut has improved[File: Dalati Nohra/AFP]

Escalation ‘show of force’ by Hezbollah

Speaking from Beirut, Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that what had unfolded in the Lebanese capital was a “show of force” by Hezbollah and its allies.

“Essentially [they] gave the Lebanese public a false choice between having stability without justice, or justice and no stability,” said Majzoub.

“This is just the latest in a series of attempts by Hezbollah and the ruling elite to undermine and block the investigation into the Beirut blast,” she added.

US to give extra $67m to Lebanon’s army

The United States will offer an additional $67m to support the Lebanese army, US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said in Beirut.

Speaking at a news conference, Nuland said the United States was working with the Lebanese authorities, alongside the World Bank and humanitarian relief agencies, to help the country amid its deep economic crisis.

Lebanese forces condemn escalation

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea condemned Thursday’s clashes, but did not respond to accusations from Hezbollah and Amal.

“The main reason for these events are loose and widespread weapons that are a threat to citizens anywhere at any time,” Geagea said in a statement.

‘Undeclared truce’ on streets of Beirut

Reporting from Beirut, Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr said that guns have fallen silent for about an hour.

“There seems to be an undeclared truce between the groups whose supporters were battling on the streets of the Lebanese capital,” said Khodr.

“An hour ago, we would not have been able to be here. We heard loud explosions and rocket-propelled grenades were being used during really fierce confrontations that lasted nearly five hours until the Lebanese Army was deployed to contain the situation,” she added.

France voices concerned over Lebanon unrest

France expressed concern over the deadly unrest that erupted in Lebanon over the investigation into last year’s Beirut port blast and urged all parties to calm the situation.

“France is deeply concerned over the recent hindering of the smooth running of the investigation … and the violence that has occurred in this context. France calls on all parties to bring about a de-escalation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Gunmen spread out and shot to kill: Hezbollah

Lebanon’s powerful Shia Hezbollah movement has said protesters from its group and the Amal movement had been attacked by gunmen from the Christian Lebanese Forces.

Hezbollah said snipers had shot from the tops of buildings intending to kill people.

Relative calm restored in Beirut

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr has said a relative calm had been restored.

“The guns have fallen silent and it seems there is an undeclared truce after four hours of clashes.”

France: Port probe must take place in independent manner

The Lebanese judiciary must be able to work on their inquiry into last year’s fatal port explosion in Beirut in an independent and impartial manner, a spokeswoman for the French Foreign Affairs Ministry says.

Lebanese security forces take measures near the scene after a shooting in the district Tayouneh of Beirut [Hussam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency]

UN calls for ‘maximum restraint’

UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, has expressed concern.

“At this juncture, it is critical to show maximum restraint, ensure that calm is restored and that citizens are protected,” Wronecka said in a tweet.

Beirut streets look like ‘a war zone’

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, says the city’s streets look like a war zone.

“This is the most serious and intense gun battles in the streets of Beirut in years. The full area is a war zone, the army is out and in force but still unable to contain the situation, unable to stop these ongoing gunfire,” she said.

Shia fighters take cover during clashes in the area of Tayouneh [Anwar Amro/AFP]

Beirut incident saw ‘shots in the head with live ammunition’

Following a meeting with the heads of security agencies, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi has said in a statement: “The security agencies knew about the gatherings that took place, but had no indicators that could develop into shots in the head with live ammunition.”

“Civil peace between the Lebanese is not to be played with.”

Mawlawi said an investigation is ongoing and all security measures will be taken.

Children trapped due to clashes

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, says children were trapped at their schools following clashes.

“People are trapped at home, some children are still trapped at school. People are terrified, they don’t know what is happening in their city. About 200 metres (656 feet) from here there is a decades-long dividing line dating back to the days of the civil war (1975-90).

“It is scenes like this that bring back a lot of memories for many Lebanese who have been traumatised by many bouts of violence but this has been one of the worst bouts of violence.”

Civil Defence seeks to evacuate residents caught in the crossfire

Al Jazeera’s Kareem Chehayeb, reporting from Beirut, says the civil defence forces are trying to help evacuate residents caught in the crossfire.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati is currently meeting the heads of security agencies as clashes continue, he added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies