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Heavy gunfire during demonstration in Beirut leaves three dead, nine injured

The official NNA news agency reported three deaths in clashes in the Lebanese capital. An emergency doctor at the al-Sahel hospital in Beirut who did not want to be named sooner told CNN that the hospital had left one dead and nine injured since the violence began.

Hundreds of supporters of Iran-backed Hezbollah and its main Shiite ally, Amal, marched towards the city’s courthouse on Thursday when shots were fired at protesters from an unknown location, forcing protesters and journalists to take cover, according to an army statement and local broadcasters.

There are several local reports of snipers firing at protesters from the roofs of buildings in the area. Videos from local television and social media also showed masked protesters shooting what appeared to be AK-47s behind street barriers and rubbish tips, apparently retaliating at the gunmen, and black smoke rising from the one of the neighboring buildings.

In a statement Thursday, the Lebanese army, which was widely deployed at the scene of the shootings, said it would shoot any armed person in areas where the clashes are taking place and called on people to leave the streets.

“It is clear that those who shot at the demonstrators were organized armed groups planning this attack since yesterday,” a senior Hezbollah official told CNN. “We will not retaliate. They want to draw us into civil war and we do not want to sow civil war.”

In a joint statement released by Hezbollah and Amal, the groups called for “calm” among their supporters on the streets.

Hezbollah is a staunch opponent of Tariq Bitar, the popular judge who is leading the investigation into the Beirut explosion and has called for prosecution against high-level officials. This week, the judge issued an arrest warrant against lawmaker Ali Hassan Khalil, a senior Amal official and former finance minister.

Bitar also issued arrest warrants against MP Nouhad Machnouk, an ally of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and former Minister of the Interior.

Since his appointment in February, Bitar, who also heads the Beirut Criminal Court, has asked senior political and security officials to be questioned in connection with the investigation into the Beirut explosion. He is the second forensic investigator to lead the investigation. The first judge in charge of managing the investigation was removed from his post after two ex-ministers indicted in the investigation successfully filed a request for dismissal.

Several court petitions filed by prosecuted officials to fire Bitar have been unsuccessful.

In a televised speech Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah berated the judge, accusing him of being “politicized”.

This is breaking news, more details will follow.