Lebanese Defence Minister's car hit by bullets in Beirut suburb

It is unclear whether incident was an assassination attempt or accident

A man holds a sign reading 'weapons in defence of weapons' during the funeral of Hezbollah member Ahmad Ali Kassas, who died during an exchange of fire in Kahaleh. Reuters
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The car of Lebanon’s caretaker Defence Minister Maurice Slim was hit by bullets as he travelled through a south-eastern suburb of Beirut on Thursday in an incident the army declined to call an assassination attempt.

Mr Slim was “fine”, his media office said, although the rear window of his car was shattered by a bullet.

The circumstances of the incident remain unclear.

Lebanese news station MTV initially reported it as an “assassination attempt” that took place n the suburb of Jisr el Basha.

But an army source told The National the likely cause was stray bullets. He added that the army was investigating whether the minister had been a target.

Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi told local news that it was “still early to link the events in Kahaleh to the assassination attempt on the Minister of Defence”.

The incident follows a particularly tense period in Lebanon, after armed clashes between Hezbollah members and residents in the mountain town of Kahaleh on Wednesday night resulted in the deaths of two people.

A resident of Kahaleh was killed, as was a member of the Iran-backed group.

Reports of gunfire striking Mr Slim's vehicle emerged as a military-style funeral was under way in Beirut for Ahmad Ali Kassas, the Hezbollah fighter who was killed in the Kahaleh clashes.

The funeral was accompanied by heavy ceremonial gunfire, which is a common occurrence in Lebanon.

Detractors of Hezbollah frequently call for the group's disarmament. While the powerful group has a paramilitary that rivals the army in terms of weapons and equipment, arms are also common in the average Lebanese household.

It is a familiar adage among residents that “every household in Lebanon is hiding at least one gun”.

Firing into the air is common at funerals, weddings and school graduations, but has often posed a public safety hazard, with people killed or injured by descending bullets.

Last week, a seven-year-old girl was critically injured when a stray bullet fired by people celebrating the end of high school exams fell on her head while playing on a playground, lodging in her brain.

In January, two commercial planes parked at Beirut's international airport were hit by stray bullets during New Year's celebrations.

And in March, a plane narrowly missed being struck by gunfire mid-flight.

Lebanese officials frequently discourage gunfire during celebrations or periods of mourning, but the practice remains common.

Updated: August 10, 2023, 4:01 PM