image Photo: Reuters

Rise in Lebanon’s religious tensions

The Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group is accusing the Christian Lebanese Forces party (LF) of having deliberately planned street violence in Beirut that killed 7 people last week.

By Erin Viner

LF Head Samir Geagea has vehemently denied accusations by Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite Muslim group that his Christian faction is trying to ignite another civil war.

Last Thursday’s clashes were the worst in over a decade, evoking memory of Lebanon’s devastating sectarian Civil War that raged between 1975 until 1990, coming as the heavily-armed population struggles to cope with one of the world’s worst ever economic meltdowns.

The violence erupted at a boundary between Christian and Shi’ite neighborhoods in Beirut during a Hezbollah-called protest against a court-ordered refusal to remove Judge Tarek Bitar as lead investigator into the cause of last year’s explosion at the city’s port.

Denying Hezbollah conspiracy theories over an LF gathering with its allies the day prior to the the violence, Faction Head Samir Geagea told the Voice of Beirut International radio station that the meeting was “purely political” in nature at which it was decided that a public strike would be called had the Shi’ite group succeeded in Judge Bitar’s dismissal.

Moreover, he insisted that LF members ‘are always present in the Ain al-Remmaneh and Teyouneh areas where the shooting erupted. He said that as soon as the Hezbollah protest was planned, the LF security coordinator contacted authorities to request a strengthened military presence “as our priority was for the demonstration to simply pass by” and “not affect civil peace.”

19 suspects have been arrested for involvement of the shooting deaths of the victims, all of whom were Shi’ite. “The army has arrested snipers, so they need to tell us who they are and where they came from,” Geagea said.

Geagea also condemned President Michel Aoun, the founder of Lebanon’s largest Christian bloc and close Hezbollah ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).

The LF Head, whose own party has close ties to Saudi Arabia, said that is was “totally unacceptable” that Aoun implicitly repeated the same Hezbollah accusations of involvement by asking him ‘to calm down the situation’ during a telephone conversation during the incident.

Hezbollah tried to have Bitar fired on charges of bias senior members of its’ Shi’ite Amal Movement ally were sought for questioning as to the cause of the devastating 4 August 2020 port explosion that killed over 200 people and destroyed large parts of the capital