Middle East

Nasrallah: Clashes mark ‘new stage’ for Hezbollah in Lebanon

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah warned in an address on Monday that the clashes in Beirut in which seven people were killed and dozens were injured last week were dangerous and marked a pivotal “new stage” for the movement concerning how it deals with internal affairs.

The shooting on Thursday began as Shi’ite Hezbollah and Amal supporters marched through the Tayouneh area of Beirut where it meets Ain El Remmaneh and Chiyah, a site famous for sectarian clashes between Shi’ites, Sunnis and Christians during the 1975 civil war in Lebanon, as it marked the border between east and west Beirut.

Hezbollah quickly pointed the finger at the Christian Lebanese Forces movement on Thursday, claiming that the movement had sniped protesters from nearby rooftops in a planned ambush.

The Lebanese Forces have rejected the claims, saying the shooting was because of incitement caused by Hezbollah’s leaders against Tarek Bitar, the judge in charge of investigating the 2020 Beirut Port blast, and that the claims were an attempt to divert attention from Hezbollah’s invasion into the area.

The movement pointed out that Hezbollah operatives were clearly seen in many videos entering safe neighborhoods with automatic weapons, and stated that the shooting was an attempt to use violence and intimidation to overthrow the investigation into the port explosion.

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Both sides have urged calm from their supporters in efforts to avoid a further conflict in the country struggling with a continuing economic crisis.

Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah was informed the night before the shooting about the Lebanese Forces mobilizing and bringing weapons and that Hezbollah had received reassurances from the security forces that this was just a precautionary effort.

The Hezbollah leader added that the Forces had incited the people in the area by telling them that their neighborhoods would be invaded and occupied by Hezbollah.

Nasrallah attacked the Lebanese Forces, saying that the movement was trying to make people in the southern suburbs of Beirut feel scared of Hezbollah as an “imaginary enemy.” He added that the party was increasing tensions and fear in order to achieve the goals of its leaders and the goals of foreign countries with interests in Lebanon.

The Hezbollah leader stressed that the Lebanese Forces are aiming for civil war in order to cause demographic changes that will crowd Christians into a specific area and create a Christian state dominated by the party.

Nasrallah stressed that Hezbollah is not the enemy of the Lebanese or Christians, saying that the people of Syria could be asked about how Hezbollah protects Christians. Nasrallah attacked the Forces, saying that everywhere they went they brought war and fighting and had supported ISIS and terrorists.

“The biggest threat to the existence of Christians and the security of the Christian community in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces,” said Nasrallah. The secretary-general advised the Lebanese Forces to abandon any ideas about internal fighting or civil war, adding that Hezbollah only wants civil peace, security and openness in Lebanon.

Nasrallah claimed during the speech that security services informed Hezbollah that the Lebanese Forces were behind the shooting. The Hezbollah leader admitted that slogans and provocations began during the march, calling it a mistake.

Despite footage showing Hezbollah and Amal members carrying many weapons, including automatic weapons and RPGs, Nasrallah claimed that the movement had not taken any security or preventative measures before the march through the area due to the sensitivity of the area. The Hezbollah leader additionally claimed that the weapons were only brought to the area after the shooting began.

Nasrallah warned that the Lebanese Forces were miscalculating and that Hezbollah is still stronger, saying that Hezbollah has 100,000 fighters. The Hezbollah leader stressed that the movement’s forces were prepared to defend Lebanon’s land, oil and gas which is “being stolen before the eyes of the Lebanese,” not for internal fighting.

Nasrallah additionally stated that Hezbollah wants to know whether a Lebanese Army soldier filmed shooting at Amal members during the clashes was acting on his own accord or on orders, stressing that despite previous incidents, Hezbollah “must be careful” with the Lebanese Army.

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Nasrallah warned that the US wants a civil war in Lebanon, urging “patience, insight and awareness” from the families of those who were killed in the clashes.

“May God reward you for your patience and insight, and this will offer you a victory you do not expect and a relief you do not expect,” said Nasrallah, affirming that Hezbollah was pursuing retribution against the shooters.

Nasrallah warned against the judiciary being politicized, saying that if those responsible are not held accountable, Hezbollah would “not leave the blood of our brothers on the ground.”

Nasrallah referred to the port investigation as well, saying Hezbollah was targeted since the first moments after the explosion and that it would not remain silent.

The Hezbollah leader stressed that those who accuse the movement must produce evidence, questioning why their demand to change the judge in charge of the investigation was considered a threat.

Nasrallah pointed the finger at the judiciary, saying judges were responsible for authorizing the entry of the ammonium nitrate into the port. The Hezbollah leader additionally blamed the embassies for intimidating the judiciary.  Nasrallah stressed that time had run out and called on the state to take responsibility and act.

A Lebanese court on Thursday dismissed the latest legal complaint brought against the lead investigator of the Beirut Port blast probe, allowing him to resume work, a judicial source and court documents showed.

Lebanese MP Ali Hassan Khalil, an ally of Hezbollah, had filed the complaint after Bitar issued an arrest warrant against him in order to question him regarding the blast.

Khalil told Al-Mayadeen TV last wek that Bitar’s investigation “is unlawful and surpasses many of the protocols that must be followed.” The MP additionally claimed that the judge had met with a foreign delegation minutes after issuing the arrest warrant for Khalil – implying influence by foreign powers.

The MP warned there would be a “political escalation, and perhaps [an escalation] of another kind,” adding, “all possibilities are open,” including taking to the streets.

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Khalil claimed the investigation may be part of a regional and internal plan to try to “change balances,” and that he had information indicating the investigation has a goal for a certain political group “at the behest of external parties.” On Wednesday, Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah-affiliated MP, outright accused the US of interfering in the investigation.

Sources from Hezbollah and the Marada Movement told the Lebanese Al-Jadeed TV news that Bitar was preparing to accuse Hezbollah directly of responsibility for the explosion. The sources added that if Bitar is not removed, they will leave the government.

The Lebanese Forces warned on Monday that Hezbollah and its allies were trying to strike the judiciary and army, saying that Hezbollah was pushing Lebanon to either give up accountability, justice or stability and would not hesitate to overthrow civil peace.

The movement added that Hezbollah was trying to escape punishment and divert attention from the Beirut port blast. The Lebanese Forces called for the Lebanese people to participate in a sit-in in front of the Palais de Justice on Tuesday in support of the judiciary and Bitar.

Nasrallah also expressed condolences to Syria for the death of Medhat Saleh, who was allegedly shot and killed by Israeli forces near the border of the Golan Heights on Saturday.

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