The killing of one person and the wounding of four others in clashes in a Beirut suburb sparked a flurry of comments and condemnations on Wednesday, and raised fears about the renewal of security incidents similar to the ones that preceded the May 7, 2008 street clashes between pro-government and opposition gunmen.
One person was stabbed to death and four others were wounded in clashes that broke out overnight Tuesday in Beirut’s suburb of Ain al-Remmaneh.
The violence late on Tuesday pitted youths from the mainly Shiite district of Shiyyah against residents of the nearby Christian area of Ain al-Remmaneh.
The incident took place in an area that was the first line of demarcation during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 bloody Civil War.
A well-informed security source told The Daily Star that Lebanese troops arrested eight men suspected of involvement in the fight.
Security reports said young men on scooters came from Shiyyah and began circling near a restaurant located on the Sanine Intersection of Ain al-Remmaneh. “A heated exchange with local residents ensued and knives were used leaving one dead and four injured, all from Ain al-Remmaneh,” the reports added.
On Wednesday, the state-run National News Agency (NNA) said the victim, George Abu Madi, 30, had nothing to do with the mishap. The NNA identified the four wounded as Moussa Abdel-Ahad, George Mansour, Mazen Mitri, Salim Boulos and Jean Habr.
Ain al-Remmaneh residents called for a shutdown Wednesday to coincide with the funeral of Abu Madi.
The Ain al-Remmaneh clash came as Lebanon grapples to form a government four months after a general election that saw the March 14 coalition defeat the opposition alliance.
In another security development on Wednesday, eight people were wounded, one seriously, in a grenade explosion targeting a coffee shop in the northern port city of Tripoli, a security report said on Wednesday.
The blast took place in the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood and was followed shortly afterward by a second grenade explosion in the nearby district of Bab al-Tebbaneh. No one was injured in the second blast, the security report said.
The area was the scene last year of deadly sectarian clashes between Sunni supporters of Lebanon’s parliamentary majority and rivals from the Alawite community supported by Syria.
Commenting on Ain al-Remmaneh killing, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun said the incident would not be another Ain al-Remmaneh bus incident, in reference to a 1975 attack in which gunmen from the right-wing Phalange Party killed Palestinians riding a bus in the neighborhood. The incident is considered the spark of Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War.
Aoun urged the Lebanese judiciary to be “firm and prompt” in dealing with the incident. “We condemn the incident and the militia acts that followed it,” said Aoun.
Shiite factions Amal and Hizbullah downplayed the incident describing it as an “individual quarrel.” Shiyyah is considered a stronghold for the Amal Movement.
Following talks with Interior Ziad Baroud on Wednesday, Hizbullah MP Nawwaf Moussawi described the Ain al-Remmaneh incident an “individual quarrel,” adding that “politicizing the incident is an attempt by certain parties to improve their political positions or instigate unrest.”
Amal Movement MP Hani Qobeissi, meanwhile, said the incident had “personal rather than political” motives behind it.
The secretariat general of the March 14 forces on Wednesday condemned the incident and urged the army and police to protect the Lebanese. It also urged the Lebanese to “be cautious against the scheme aimed at inciting strife, transferring it from one area to the other and creating a tense situation.”
The coalition stressed the need for taking immediate steps to “arrest the murderers and perpetrators who attacked a safe neighborhood in Ain al-Remmaneh.”
Phalange Party MP Sami Gemayel urged the army to erect “permanent checkpoints” in hot spots to avoid similar incidents.
Lebanese Forces media officer Nadi Ghosn described the Ain al-Remmaneh incident as an “attack.”
“This is not the first time Ain al-Remmaneh citizens are assaulted,” he told the Free Lebanon radio station.
He asked how residents of Shiyyah would respond if “they were ever attacked by their neighbors from Ain al-Remmaneh.”