Lebanon's Tripoli protests reach new levels of violence

Dozens of demonstrators injured in third night of rallies

Gunfire rattled across Tripoli late into Wednesday night, as anti-lockdown protests in the northern city reached new levels of violence.

Demonstrators clashed with security forces across the city in the third consecutive night of unrest this week, leaving dozens injured.

A mob of several hundred young men tried to storm the city’s Serail, the seat of local government, battering down the main gate and tossing Molotov cocktails on to the building’s roof.

Personnel from the country’s Internal Security Forces retaliated, throwing stones and firing tear gas.

As the evening drew on, the ISF’s patience wore thin, with their blue camouflaged soldiers using live ammunition and rubber bullets against rioters.

Water cannon were unable to drive rioters out of the courtyard, and piles of burning tyres were left to smoulder, while part of the building’s exterior wall was pulled down.

As with previous nights, clashes centred around the Serail, although skirmishes later spread to other parts of the city.

The clatter of machinegun fire and boom of stun grenades drew onlookers to their balconies to watch the action unfold.

Their frustration brewing, a small group of demonstrators broke off and took to ransacking vehicles with government plates parked in the vicinity.

In one dramatic moment, an ISF official was pinned against his car by a mob, before managing to flee in his car in reverse as masked men smashed the windows with pipes.

At least two vehicles were smashed and another two set on fire.

The army’s more patient approach to dealing with the unrest of previous nights, allowing it to run its course, was replaced by more aggressive efforts by the ISF to crush the gatherings.

At times, the army appeared to act as a peacekeeping force, with demonstrators taking shelter by their vehicles as columns of the ISF’s riot police tried to clear the roads.

The force had pledged to be strict with demonstrators but the warning did little to convince people to stay home.

Numbers had increased since Tuesday’s demonstrations, and so had the anger.

About 226 people, protesters and security troops, had been injured in the riots, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.

The Lebanese Red Cross confirmed it had treated scores of people for rubber bullet injuries, but did not confirm any injuries from live ammunition.

Assem Harraj, 31, a vegetable seller, told The National  he was being forced to choose between eating and breaking the curfew.

“They told us to stay in because of Covid-19 but what are we supposed to eat? The furniture?" Mr Harraj said.

"Give us compensation and we’ll stay in.”

Lebanon is in the middle of a 25-day lockdown as it battles soaring coronavirus case numbers.

But the government has yet to offer closed businesses much in the way of financial support, leaving many struggling to afford the most basic of goods.

“Foreign countries are right not to help the government any more because all they do is steal," Mr Harraj said.

"They’re not helping the people. We’re suffocating. Thank God I am unmarried. How could I afford to have a family?”

Earlier in the day,prime minister-designate Saad Hariri tweeted that political parties may be behind the unrest.

“There may be those who take advantage of the people’s pain,” Mr Hariri said.