Lebanese army vehicles deployed in a Christian village that was the scene of a deadly shootout between members of the Hezbollah and residents, as the military sought to contain tensions yesterday.
A Hezbollah member and a Christian resident were killed in Wednesday’s exchange of fire in the village of Kahaleh, near Beirut, in an incident that began when a Hezbollah truck carrying ammunition turned over while driving through the area. It was the deadliest confrontation between the Hezbollah and Lebanese who oppose it since clashes in Beirut two years ago, further weighing on the stability of a country already suffering deep political and economic crises.
On Thursday, around 10 army vehicles were deployed around Kahaleh, including at the town’s main roundabout near a large church whose bell had been tolling through the night after the clash. The army was leading efforts to calm the situation, according to representatives of Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces (LF), a Christian faction that is staunchly opposed to Hezbollah and has a political presence in Kahaleh area.
“Tensions were very high last night and they’re still high today,” said Nazih Matta, an LF lawmaker for the Aley region. “The army leadership in particular has been leading efforts to calm things down.
“Residents aren’t scrambling to have an armed reaction to what happened – but... you start to think: how many trucks like that passed on that same road on the same day? Or the previous day? Or the week before? We’re sitting on a ticking time bomb.”
In recent years, Lebanon has been living through a financial collapse that has marked its most destabilising episode since a 1975-90 civil war. It was caused by decades of corruption and profligate spending by ruling politicians. Hezbollah is Lebanon’s most powerful group. Its arsenal has long been a point of conflict in Lebanon, where its opponents accuse the group of undermining the state.
The sides have accused each other of starting Wednesday’s shootout, which erupted after people gathered around the truck which turned over on a tight bend on a major highway linking Beirut to the Bekaa Valley and Syria.
Hezbollah accused “militias” in the area of attacking the truck’s crew, prompting an exchange of fire. It said a man protecting the vehicle was wounded and later died.
The local office of the LF accused gunmen who were accompanying the vehicle of firing at civilians, leading to the death of the local man.
Mohamed Afif, head of Hezbollah’s media office, said the army “played a big role in calming things down”. The army, which recruits from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides, said in a statement the truck was carrying ammunition that had been transferred to a military site. Hezbollah’s Afif said the ammunition was in army custody.
Lebanese army members stand near a poster of Fadi Bejjani who died during exchange of fire at the area where a truck was overturned the previous night, in the town of Kahaleh, Lebanon.