|Date: Nov 26, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Hezbollah, Amal dampen protest mood|
|Timour Azhari| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: The mood on Lebanon’s streets was dampened Monday by the attacks and intimidation of Hezbollah and Amal supporters in Beirut, amid increasing signs Lebanon was heading toward more violence as protests crossed the 40-day mark.
Protesters still turned out in the hundreds in Tripoli and a number of other locations, and were defiant in Beirut’s protest encampment. However, thousands of Hezbollah and Amal supporters filled streets in Beirut’s southern suburbs, chanting sectarian slogans and pledging blind allegiance to the leaders of both parties.
“With our blood, with our souls, we will sacrifice for you Nabih,” the crowd in Beirut’s southern suburbs chanted, in reference to Amal Movement leader Nabih Berri.
A group of men waving Hezbollah and Amal flags later drove through the streets of Beirut, including to Downtown, multiple times, where they honked horns and chanted, “Shiite, Shiite, Shiite.” Some panicked protesters ran away while others picked up sticks and poles to defend themselves, as security forces deployed to disperse the men.
An eyewitness told The Daily Star that she saw one of the men being beaten and then detained by security forces.
Scores also gathered for a candlelit vigil in Nabatieh, speaking in support of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and Berri. “Berri is a prophet, a prophet,” one man said after grabbing a reporter’s microphone. The partisan protests, they said, were held in solidarity with two people - Hussein Chalhoub and his sister-in-law Sanaa al-Jundi - who died in a car crash Monday morning near a roadblock set up by protesters on the Jiyyeh highway.
Video from the scene shows the car driving fast through metal barricades placed in the middle of a highway, before it spins out of control, crashes into a concrete barrier and catches fire. All sides have called for clear and transparent investigations into the incident.
The vigils came after hundreds of Hezbollah and Amal supporters attacked protesters who closed Beirut’s “Ring Bridge” late Sunday night, lobbing stones at them and shouting the same sectarian slogans heard again Monday night.
Running street clashes over about three hours around the “Ring Bridge” left at least three people wounded overnight Sunday into Monday, while cars, shops and tents set up by protesters in Beirut’s central district were destroyed.
The United Nations’ representative in Lebanon said Monday that Lebanese political forces should “control their supporters” and avoid using the nationwide protests for “pursing their political agenda,” following the overnight attacks.
“The attack of last night of groups under Hezbollah & Amal flags on demonstrators again exposed how dangerous are such actions of political activists, how easily they can trigger confrontation, even sectarian ones, how challenging it is for security forces to protect law and order,” U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said in a tweet.
It was the third time supporters of both parties undertook such an attack in Beirut, the most recent one occurring on Oct. 29, when many were wounded. So far, there have been no reports of anyone tied to these attacks being arrested, though the judiciary Monday began investigating the latest incident.
The “Ring Bridge” had been closed Sunday night amid calls for a nationwide strike over the failure of the political class to respond to protesters’ demands following 39 days of demonstrations. Roads were blocked in Jal al-Dib, Zouk, Tripoli and other areas, including in the Bekaa Valley.
But the Army intervened heavy-handedly across the country overnight into Monday, clearing the roads and detaining nine people in Jal al-Dib and a further four in Zouk. The Army said it had detained the men in Jal al-Dib for blocking roads with “broken glass, burned oil and other substances.”
Upon his release, one of the Jal al-Dib detainees alleged he had been beaten by security forces and said he would likely head to hospital for pain in his back.
The Army said the four in Zouk were arrested “for riots.” Three were later released, with the fourth - a Syrian national - transferred to the military police.
Protesters sat in the middle of a road in Beirut’s Qantari area leading to Hamra Monday morning. The group of men and women were protesting against the delay in forming a new government. Nearly one month after Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister, President Michel Aoun has still not set a date for binding parliamentary consultations to designate a new premier.
Riot police later forcibly opened the Qantari road, pushing protesters to the side.
A main road in Tripoli’s Bohssas that had been blocked overnight Sunday was reopened Monday morning by the Army, which used at least five large armored vehicles in the operation.
In Sidon, protesters gathered outside the offices of the state-run Electricite du Liban. The Army was seen detaining three men for blocking roads there.
The southern highway was briefly blocked Monday morning at Jiyyeh, Barja, Naameh and Khaldeh before later being reopened by the Army. While most schools, universities and banks opened Monday, schools and universities in Sidon remained closed.
Meanwhile, nine activists called in for questioning over their role in a protest at the Bisri Valley were released without charge, Roland Nassour, the coordinator of the National Campaign to Protect the Bisri Valley, told The Daily Star.
The protesters have been camped out at the Bisri Valley for more than two weeks in opposition to a controversial dam project that began to break ground there before protests began on Oct. 17.
They had been called in based on a complaint filed by a Turkish company contracted to do works on the land. “We are proud that we are hampering the work of this company. ... We tell them they are not welcome in Lebanon,” Nassour said.
A protest is planned in front of the World Bank offices in Downtown Beirut Tuesday to demand the organization withdraw funding from the roughly $600 million project.