The trouble began Sunday night with an altercation between a number of men on the Beirut Ring Bridge, one of whom shouted vulgar insults about Hezbollah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah.
Protesters closed the road around 9 p.m., amid nationwide calls for a general strike as Lebanon’s uprising entered its 40th day with almost none of its demands met.
At least two men were injured in the scuffle, which took place around 10:30 p.m. The Daily Star overheard a friend of one of the men who was assaulted making a phone call in which he said, “Let them all come down, quickly, quickly.”
Soon afterwards a group of about two dozen men gathered and infiltrated the crowd of protesters gathered on the Ring Bridge, apparently looking for the main assailant, who was nowhere to be seen. Two or three of the men then chanted slogans in support of Nasrallah and Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Amal Movement – a close ally of Hezbollah.
Protesters responded by chanting, “All of them means all of them,” and singing the national anthem. For a while, it seemed the situation had been defused.
Then, about an hour-and-a-half later, scores of men arrived on the bridge on mopeds, attacking protesters and members of the media, including LBCI anchor Dima Sadek, who later said that her phone had been snatched away from her. Sadek is outspoken against Hezbollah, and has faced an online campaign against her by supporters of the party.
Security forces intervened soon afterwards and pushed the men back. A large number then headed towards Downtown Beirut and began destroying tents in the Azarieh parking lot, before being pushed back up towards the Ring by security forces. The scenes were similar to those of Oct. 29, when Hezbollah and Amal supporters rampaged through Downtown Beirut, beating protesters and burning tents.
Though the previous attack left behind much more widespread destruction and a larger number injured, the size of the mob was about the same as the one seen overnight Sunday, and, once again, none of those who attacked protesters were seen being detained.
As riot police ran from Downtown towards the Ring Bridge, a mob of hundreds of men banged against the railing of the bridge, chanting “Shiite, Shiite, Shiite,” and slogans in support of Nasrallah and Berri.
Soon afterwards, the men began lobbing rocks towards protesters who had retreated towards the eastern side of the Ring. Several in the crowd waved Hezbollah and Amal Movement flags. Protesters waved Lebanese flags in return.
Riot police and soldiers held the large mob at bay, while about 100 meters away protesters stood behind another line of soldiers and riot police. Each side took turns chanting provocative slogans.
When the mob chanted that they would sacrifice with their “blood and soul” for Nasrallah and Berri, protesters responded by calling the former a “terrorist” and the latter a “thief.”
Many protesters laughed incredulously when the mob chanted “God, Syria, Bashar and that's all,” in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They responded with: “Terrorists, terrorists, Hezbollah are terrorists.”
The mood of defiance was palpable throughout the night. A number of protesters wielded sticks and other objects that could be used as weapons, ready to defend themselves.
Others threw rocks back, though security forces quickly intervened to stop them. Several times, the mob of men attempted to skirt around security forces, via side streets in the upscale Saifi Village neighborhood. On their first attempt they briefly succeeded, launching a hail of rocks onto security forces and protesters, before being pushed back into the alleyways they had come from.
In a strange moment at one point, people on both sides turned on the flashlights of their phones and began shining them at each other. Such scenes have become associated with large gatherings in protest squares, where DJs have directed crowds to shine their lights at specific moments during songs or chants.
Running street battles continued until around 3 a.m., at which point a group that had peeled off form the mob attempted to come at protesters from a back street through Ashrafieh’s Monot area, near Saint Joseph University. A large number of soldiers and protesters wielding sticks and tree branches chased away the Hezbollah and Amal supporters. Upon their return, the demonstrators and military personnel were greeted as heroes by a jubilant crowd, who chanted “Revolution, revolution, revolution.”
Some raised their hands, making peace signs, while others carried with them a moped seized as a trophy. They took it through the crowd towards the Hezbollah and Amal supporters, dumped it in the middle of the road. Tear gas was fired and the men retreated.
However, the mood turned shortly afterwards, when security forces fired large quantities of tear gas into the crowd of protesters, dispersing them.
In the backstreets, as protesters recovered from the effects of the gas, fires burned in several locations. Another moped had been set alight near USJ, as had a car, its door ajar as flames licked at the upholstery inside. A man arrived with a fire extinguisher and put out the blaze.
The mob was not done. A sizeable number headed towards Downtown Beirut, once again, destroying cars and doing a limited amount of damage to tents before being dispersed by security forces, who again deployed tear gas.
There, too, many protesters wielded sticks and poles. One said that they had fought alongside the Army against the mob. Indeed, the night’s events saw perhaps the most widespread use of weaponry by protesters in Beirut since the uprising began.
The situation calmed by around 4:30 a.m. Riot police could be seen dozing off on a sidewalk in Riad al-Solh Square, some with their heads propped up on their helmets. Across the road, military personnel warmed themselves around a fire in the yard of an idle construction site, as Day 40 began to dawn after a long and sleepless night.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
Copyright © 2021, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.