Lebanese Forces leader fails to appear in military court

Hezbollah and the LF have traded blame over the deadly shootings in Beirut

The leader of the Lebanese Forces party failed to appear at a military court hearing session on Wednesday to give his statement about clashes with Hezbollah supporters earlier this month that led to the deadliest bout of violence in the Lebanese capital in years.

On October 14, unknown gunmen shot dead seven supporters of Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally Amal during a protest against the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut port explosion.

The Christian party and Hezbollah have traded blame over the shootings, stirring sectarian tensions as the country enters its second year of economic meltdown.

“Of course he did not attend,” a spokesperson for LF leader Samir Geagea told The National, adding that his legal team filed a complaint against his summons.

“We consider this a political attack, not a legal one. The legal proceedings used against him are weak and do not stand.”

Hundreds of LF supporters waved the party’s flag and gathered in front of the party’s headquarters in Merab, north of Beirut, preventing their leader from going to the hearing.

They cheered in support of the LF leader, chanting: “Hezbollah are terrorists.”

Mr Geagea had previously said he would only appear in court if the judge also summoned Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, whom he blames for the clashes.

It is unclear what prompted the violence. Hezbollah has accused LF snipers of shooting dead seven of their supporters, while the LF has said that protesters taunted residents of the Christian neighbourhood where the protest took place with sectarian slogans and damage to property.

Video footage circulated online that shows at least one soldier shooting at a protester. The army said it was investigating the matter.

In past weeks, Hezbollah has intensified a campaign against judge Tarek Bitar after he summoned politicians and security officials close to the group. The push to remove the judge has reportedly prevented the Cabinet from meeting, after ministers backed by Hezbollah and its allies threatened to boycott sessions.

On Tuesday, Christian Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Rai met some of the country’s top politicians and said afterwards that they had found a “constitutional solution” to resolve the issue of the judge's dismissal.

Families of the Beirut blast victims have decried political interference in the investigation.

Hezbollah has accused the judge of siding against them and their allies and of being biased. The LF spokesman said that the group is using Mr Geagea's summoning as a distraction from the port blast investigation.

“There is a political side that is putting all its weight to undermine the Beirut blast probe, they are creating a small issue that has no legal grounds to achieve this goal,” he said.

Updated: October 27th 2021, 2:57 PM