Explosions, shooting rock Beirut as tensions over blast probe erupt


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BEIRUT -Gunfire killed at least one person in Beirut on Thursday as supporters and allies of the powerful Shi'ite group Hezbollah gathered to protest against the judge investigating the Beirut port explosion.

A military source told five more people wounded in the shooting. The gunfire began from the Christian neighborhood of Ain el-Remmaneh as people heading to the protest were passing through a nearby traffic circle, prompting an exchange of fire, the military source said.

At least two explosions were heard as the Lebanese army deployed heavily in the area.

Political tensions over the probe into the catastrophic August 2020 port explosion have been building, with the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah leading calls for the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar, accusing him of bias.

The explosion killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut.

Thursday's shooting took place on the border between Christian and Shi'ite Muslim neighbourhoods of Beirut, and was a frontline in the Lebanese civil war, which began in Ain el-Remmaneh in 1975.

Hezbollah's al-Manar TV said the gunfire had targeted protesters as they headed to the nearby Justice Palace.

People ran for cover as shots and ambulance sirens could be heard in a live broadcast by Lebanon's al-Jadeed TV.

Bitar has sought to question a number of senior politicians and security officials, including Hezbollah allies, suspected of negligence that led to the port explosion, caused by a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate.

A court earlier on Thursday dismissed a legal complaint against the Bitar, documents showed - allowing him to resume his investigation into the explosion.

(Reporting By Maha El Dahan, Alaa Kanaan and Laila Bassam, Writing By Tom Perry; Editing by Toby Chopra and John Stonestreet)

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