The Lebanese army stands guard as a man flees his house in Beirut after deadly clashes erupted Thursday along a former 1973-90 civil war divide between Muslim Shiite and Christian areas.
Lebanon s capital thrives on its sectarian diversity but civil tensions lurk underground, and memories of civil war exist in parallel with some religious tensions.
Beirut, a city where everyone gets by, Revisites Sectarian Violence.
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Tony Nohra, a shopkeeper in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, was receiving a shipment of yogurt on Friday the day after sectarian clashes killed seven people in the city and talking about how many Christians he had. But when asked how the violence had started, he snapped. You have to ask the guys in the neighborhood, he said, angrily pointed toward the Shiite neighborhood nearby. Overhearing the comment, Shiite man delivering the yogurt cut in. Most of the time, residents of Beirut, a culturally and religiously diverse town with roughly 2.5 million inhabitants represent scrappy Mediterranean diversity, get by and talk along. They do business, socialize and sometimes marry out of their religion groups.
Apartment buildings still bear scars from gunfights during the civil war, during which sectarian militias of Muslims, Christians and others battled off and on until 1990. And although it was long erased, nearly everybody knows the path of the green line that divided the city between the Christian East and the Muslim West during the hostilities. It was near the invisible border that fighting erupted on Thursday when snipers firing on Shiites passing in the neighborhood on their way to a protest shot behind and did not hit anyone. By Saturday, the authorities had arrested 19 people for involvement in clashes, the state-run National News Agency reported, without providing further details on the suspects.
The violence played out in the backdrop of devastating economic and political crises that have left many residents feeling there is not much of a state left to protect them, a situation which has only increased feelings of loyalty to and dependence on their sects. Since the autumn of 2019 the currency has collapsed, siphoning value from peoples'salaries and savings and driving prices to skyrocket. Amid continual bickering, the political elite has failed to slow the descent. And a massive explosion in the port of Beirut last year left more than 215 people, severely damaged swaths of the city and defeated many Beirutis by feeling that their government's history of poor management and corruption was endangering their lives. It was the repercussions from this explosion — namely efforts by politicians and other officials to exempt themselves from responsibility for it — that led to the events on Thursday. Two Shiite political parties led a protest — Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that the United States considers terrorist organizations ; the Amal movement — led a demonstration calling for the removal of the judge who was leading the investigation.
On one side is Mr. Nohra s predominantly Catholic neighborhood Ein al-Remaneh, where many residents wear crosses, pepper their Arabic with French and name their children after Christian saints. On the other side is the mostly Shiite Muslim Chiyah, where flags bearing names of Shiite Muslim martyrs hang from lampposts, women wear head scarves and residents see Iran as more likely to help Lebanon solve its many problems than the United States. Residents of the two neighborhoods frequently go back and forth. Christians shop for deals in the Shiite area, where traders have a knack for paying customs duties. And less devout Shiites buy beer from the Christians, sometimes drinking it on site if they can't take it home. As in many residents in Beirut, they often view local conflicts as skirmishes in large geopolitical battles between the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran. This offered a radical different explanation for what had caused the violence. In Ein Al Remaneh, Christians accused the protesters of entering their neighborhood with arms, a provocation. Who comes out with weapons? Asking Fadi Qarout, 57. a Christian merchant who has lived in the area since before the Civil War was done. He acknowledged that snipers from the Shiitan militia could have deployed before the protest, but accused the Shiites of showing force in a community that was not theirs.
Who was the worse worst hit in your life? he said, mentioning the nearby chandelier shop and car dealership that had been damaged in the gunfight. When reminded that all seven people killed were Shiites, including a woman who had been tending to laundry on her balcony, he resorted to an all-too-convenient Lebanese explanation for facts that don t mesh with the preferred narrative: the conspiracy theory. The Shiites, he said, shot at themselves to inflame the situation. Hezbollah and his allies aimed at the snipers from the Lebanese Forces, a Saudi political party supported by Kingdom, of firing at their members, forcing them to respond. The Lebanese forces denied involvement in the attack, and their leader Samir Geagea blamed Hezbollah. A short distance from Mr. Nohra s shop, down the boulevard in Chiyah, a group of Shiite men dressed in black to mourn those killed spun conspiracy theories of their own, saying the snipers were part of a plot involving Hezbollah and its allies to weaken Islam and its allies None of the men agreed to give their names. Yes, there was an ambush and embassies and intelligence agencies planned it, said a man called Abu Ali, whom residents described as being in control of the area and who declined to share his real name. He wore military-style shirt, sported a pistol and ran a coffee shop called Al Sultan covered with pictures of Marlon Brando in The Godfather.