image Photo: Reuters

Hezbollah, Amal Groups Clash with Beirut Protesters

Anti-government protests in Lebanon escalated when demonstrators clashed with supporters of the Shi’ite Hezbollah and Amal groups in Beirut earlier today.  As the mainstream protesters chanted “Revolution, revolution,” the Hezbollah-Amal members waved their factions’ flags while shouting “Shia, Shia” and slogans in support of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

A fight apparently broke out when Hezbollah and Amal supporters accused the other side of making offensive comments about Nasrallah, according to the Lebanese al-Jadeed broadcaster.

Riot police and military forces were deployed to separate the two sides, as they squared off on the central Ring Bridge. Three local television stations reported that security forces fired tear gas to disperse the crowds, all of whom were allegedly hurling rocks. A motorcycle was also reportedly set on fire.

The mass protests erupted October 17 over corruption allegations against the sectarian politicians who have governed Lebanon for decades. Demonstrators have demanded the entire ruling class step down from power. Hezbollah and Amal were both represented in the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who stepped down from office on October 29. The heavily-armed Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, had opposed Hariri’s resignation. The demonstrations were initially sparked over a tax on WhatsApp voice calls which was quickly abandoned by the government; but spiraled into an outpouring of anger by a population malcontented by chronic economic stagnation, endemic corruption and a lack of basic public services.

The Lebanese civil defense agency announced on via Twitter that five people received medical treatment for “various injuries.”

This has been the worst outbreak of violence in the Lebanese capital since Reuters reported that “a mob loyal to Hezbollah and Amal attacked and destroyed the main protest camp in central Beirut last month.”

Despite their intensity, so far the protests have largely been peaceful.