Sun. Dec 5th, 2021

A Lebanese family has told of their horror when a stray bullet hit their apartment during fierce fighting in the streets of Beirut on Thursday.

At least six people were shot dead and more than a dozen others were injured in the fighting, which erupted after a protest demanding the removal of the judge investigating an explosion that flew through the city’s port last year.

Sonia Chabbi and her two daughters were sheltered in their apartment not far from the fights when they heard a loud noise in their living room.

Beirut resident Sonia Chabbi is gesturing as she speaks to ABC after protests turned violent.
Beirut resident Sonia Chabbi speaks to ABC.(ABC: Delivered)

“We were in the bedroom, we were talking … and suddenly we hear this sound and a ricocheting of something metallic,” Chabbi told ABC from his apartment.

“I thought it was the bulb, you know when the bulb explodes or something.

Outside, powerful shots could be heard echoing through the tall apartment blocks in Beirut, and video shared on social media showed men waving rifles and rocket-propelled grenades running through the streets.

A windowpane appears broken after the violence on the streets of Beirut.
A window in a Beirut home shattered during the violence.

Hundreds of armed Hezbollah supporters wearing black had gathered in the neighborhood of Beirut Justice Palace on Thursday, calling for the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the explosion probe in the port of Beirut, accusing him of bias.

Bitar is the head of Beirut’s criminal court and judge responsible for the investigation into the August 2020 explosion.

The shooting erupted after Shia Muslim protesters said they were targeted by snipers from a rival Christian faction.

The Lebanese army placed armored vehicles to contain the situation and arrested nine people.

Photos and footage circulated in WhatsApp groups showed children choking in corridors of a school, and a lifeless body being pulled from the street by spectators.

Three men carry an elderly woman out of a building on a chair as they evacuate after gunfire in Beirut.
Men helped evacuate an elderly woman as the shooting continued.(Reuters: Mohamed Azakir)

The harbor explosion was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. It killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and destroyed large parts of the capital.

A year later, no top official has been held accountable, and senior officials allied with Iranian-backed Hezbollah have refused to pursue the investigation.

Death has become a microcosm of Lebanese politics as the lame state fights a series of economic crises.

A partially destroyed building at the site of the explosion in the port of Beirut in the middle of multicolored containers
More than 200 people were killed in the port explosion in Beirut.(REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir / File Photo)

‘Hostages in the state’

Mrs Chabbi returned to Beirut from Paris the night before the fighting broke out, saying the situation in Beirut was deteriorating rapidly.

The ongoing fuel crisis means she has, on average, only 11 hours of power a day. In many other parts of Lebanon, the situation is even worse.

She takes her salary in cash because the economic collapse means money is scarce.

“We are all being taken hostage – consider ourselves hostages in the state – because what they are doing to us is really not normal.”

Mrs. Chabbi and her daughters are trying to live a normal life, but she still feels quite anxious about the current situation.

“It gets on my nerves, but at the same time I have no other option because my life is here. We have to be careful,” she said.

“I have a roof over my head, I can still fill up with gas. I can still buy food and all that. I consider myself lucky compared to other people.”

She went through the difficulties of the Civil War between 1975 and 1990, and feared that history would repeat itself.

“Is that what I want my children to live through?

“There were very scary moments, the civil war back in the 80s was really scary.

‘Everyone around us is thinking of leaving’

Lebanese Army Special Forces soldiers protect teachers as they flee their schools.
The Lebanese army’s special forces soldiers protected civilians as they fled.(AP: Hussein Malla)

The fighting in Beirut lasted several hours, and some of the clashes using rocket-propelled grenades were reminiscent of the previous civil war.

It was also the worst violence since 2008, when supporters of the Sunni-led government fought street battles in Beirut against Hezbollah militias.

These clashes lasted until the government went back to some decisions that affected Hezbollah, including taking steps toward a telecommunications network operated by the group.

Abdallah Kassem, a dental surgeon, lives near the clashes.

He was preparing for work when he heard gunshots on the street.

Two soldiers from the Lebanese army are standing on a street lined with rubble after a protest became violent in Beirut.
The Lebanese army brought in armored vehicles to stem the situation.(Reuters: Mohamed Azakir)

He told ABC he immediately switched to survival mode.

“I heard the first RPG and the whole building was shaking. We opened the windows, stayed away from the windows, and we (with his partner) did all these survival attitudes we are trained with, well in Lebanon,” he said.

“My knees hurt, I could not really walk. It got me really excited.”

As the fighting subsided, he packed up his belongings and fled the city.

“I feel completely insecure,” he said.

“It’s been three years and everything’s so difficult in Lebanon. Everyone around us is thinking of leaving. It was right next to my house.

“This one is different because we do not know who they are fighting. And they are Lebanese fighting with Lebanese.”

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