BEIRUT (AP) — 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 Shia.
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 Shia 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.
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 Shia 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.
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 Shia groups later grew intolerant of criticism of their leaders and sought to quell the rallies.
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.
Image: A man looks at a burned car that was set on fire early Tuesday by supporters of the Shia Hezbollah and Amal Movement groups, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. Supporters of Lebanon’s two main Shia groups Hezbollah and Amal clashed with security forces and set fires to cars in the capital early Tuesday, apparently angered by a video circulating online that showed a man insulting Shia figures.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)