Hezbollah backers attack Beirut protesters as violence flares for third day
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Hezbollah backers attack Beirut protesters as violence flares for third day

Rioters clash for hours with security forces guarding encampments, hurling stones, firecrackers, set fire to cars, tents; fighting threatens to plunge country into further chaos

A private security worker takes pictures of a burned car that was set on fire by supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal Movement groups, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 17, 2019. (Hussein Malla/AP)
A private security worker takes pictures of a burned car that was set on fire by supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal Movement groups, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 17, 2019. (Hussein Malla/AP)

BEIRUT — Assailants attacked several protest camps in north and south Lebanon early on Tuesday, according to state-run media, demolishing tents and burning down others as anger boiled over in the capital following a video deemed offensive to the country’s Shiites.

The violence — some of it apparently carried out by Hezbollah supporters and their allies — threatened to plunge Lebanon further into chaos amid two months of anti-government protests and a spiraling financial crisis.

In Beirut, charred remains of several torched cars were scattered on a main highway while faint smoke smoldered from a fire set in a building overlooking the epicenter of two-month-old protests after a night of rage by supporters of Lebanon’s two main Shiite groups, Hezbollah and Amal.

It was the third consecutive night of violence in Lebanon, coming after the Lebanese president on Monday postponed talks on naming a new prime minister, further prolonging the unrest in the Mediterranean country.

Lebanese riot police fire tear gas towards supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal groups in Beirut, Lebanon, December 17, 2019. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

The violence was fueled by an undated video circulating online of a man, said to be living somewhere in Europe but otherwise from Lebanon’s majority Sunni city of Tripoli, railing against Shiite politicians, religious figures and others. It was unclear what the link was between the video and the attacks on the protest camps.

Supporters of the militant Hezbollah group and the Amal movement, angered by protesters’ criticism of their leaders, have tried to attack the protest camps for days. Late on Monday, hundreds of angry men — apparently supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, which is led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri — descended on the camp in central Beirut.

They clashed for hours with security forces guarding the camp, hurling stones and firecrackers and setting fire to several cars, trees and a building under construction overlooking the square. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.

Hezbollah and Amal supporters set fire to trees in Beirut, Lebanon, December 17, 2019. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

Meanwhile, reports emerged of assailants attacking protest tents in northern Lebanon’s Hermel district, in the southern city of Sidon and the town of Nabatiyeh, where the protesters are also Shiites. The assailants set fires to the tents in Sidon, and destroyed the ones in Nabatiyeh, according to the National News Agency.

In the district of Hermel, fires raged in tents set up by protesters in the village of Fakeha after assailants lobbed a bomb into it, the agency said.

The anti-government protests, which erupted in mid-October, have spared no Lebanese politician, accusing the ruling elite of corruption and mismanagement, and calling for a government of independents. They have largely been peaceful, sparked by an intensifying economic crisis.

While initially spontaneous and unifying, supporters of the Shiite groups later grew intolerant of criticism of their leaders and sought to quell the rallies.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun speaks during an address to the nation at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, November 21, 2019. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

President Michel Aoun postponed meetings with leaders of parliamentary blocs to name a new prime minister. The only candidate — caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri — failed to win the backing of the country’s largest Christian groups, asking for the delay. Hariri resigned in late October.

Under Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the prime minister has to be a Sunni Muslim.

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