Tensions appear to be dangerously high in Lebanon as heavily armed factions exchange fire in the streets of Beirut. Anger has been rising in the country over a perceived mishandling of an investigation into the massive explosion which occurred at the city’s port last year. The clashes are sparking wider fear in the country, which has seen civil war in the past resulting from religious and ethnic divisions which continue today.
Snipers on city roofs
The Lebanese army has warned that snipers and RPGs have been sighted on rooftops in the capital city taking part in clashes which erupted after a protest.
Civilians scrambled to escape from the scattered firefights, which left at least seven dead and 30 wounded. Casualties occurred among both civilians and combatants.
The Lebanese army has arrested at least nine people who are accused of taking part in the violence, including one Syrian.
Who exactly started the fighting is unclear but it seems that the clashes involved Hezbollah and the Christian Lebanese Forces Party.
Both groups are well known for their military arms and have participated in past fighting. They both also act as legitimate political factions in Lebanon.
Hezbollah accused the Christian party of having snipers open fire on a Hezbollah affiliated crowd which was protesting the port explosion investigation.
Tensions rising in Lebanon
Lebanon in recent years has generally been one of the more successful cases of religious cooperation in the Middle East, though the competition hasn’t been too impressive.
Tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Christians, Druze, and other religious groups have never gone away entirely and the last year has significantly exacerbated anxieties in the country.
Lebanon is struggling with spreading poverty and shortages of essential goods and services, in addition to the massive damage to lives and the economy inflicted by the port explosion last year.
The latest clashes have been the worst Beirut has seen in years. The sounds of snipers and RPG fire are not an unfamiliar ones for Beirut residents, who fear an intensification of the violence which has been largely kept under control for the last decade.
The clashing factions appear to have established an unofficial truce for now. The army is reportedly maintaining a heavy presence in the area where the fighting took place.
The bloodstained streets and bullet holes visible in cars and buildings are a reminder that fighting could easily break out again at any time.