A cautious calm descended over Beirut on Thursday evening after nearly four hours of violence in the Lebanese capital left at least six people dead and more than 30 wounded.
Panic and fear gripped the city after gunfire broke out at a protest by supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement near the Palace of Justice.
Hundreds of supporters of the two Shia groups had gathered to demand the removal of Tarek Bitar, the judge heading the probe into last year’s deadly Beirut port blast.
Commenting on the violence in a joint statement, both Hezbollah and Amal groups accused “armed group” affiliated with the Lebanese Forces party, led by Samir Geagea, of being behind the attack.
The groups called for bringing those accountable for the violence to justice.
The protest started hours after a court dismissed a complaint against the judge and allowed him to continue the investigation.
The groups accuse the judge of bias, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently saying that Bitar’s work “involves political targeting and has nothing to do with justice.”
According to the Lebanese Red Cross, the number of fatalities currently stands at six and more than 30 people have been wounded.
The organization’s update came after Lebanon’s Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi told reporters that five people were killed and at least 16 injured.
Among those killed was a woman who was struck by a bullet in her home, according to the state-run National News Agency.
Mawlawi said “the problem started with sniping, and the first person was hit in the head... the organizers of the demonstration assured us that it was peaceful.”
The Lebanese military said in a statement that the protesters were attacked while heading toward the Palace of Justice.
The army urged people to vacate the area and warned that any individuals with weapons will be shot.
The Lebanese government announced the closure of all public and private schools, as well as universities, as of Friday after the deadly clashes.
Minister of Education and Higher Education Abbas Al-Halabi said in a statement: "All public and private schools, professions, institutes and universities will be closed tomorrow, Friday."
The Beirut port blast in August 2020 killed more than 200 people, injured around 6,000, and left some 300,000 homeless, besides causing massive damage and further weakening Lebanon’s already fragile economy.