Violence plagues Lebanon protests amid clashes with police, Hezbollah

Amal and Hezbollah have formed committees to control the street. We exercised great control over our streets," said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Supporters of the Lebanese Shi'ite groups Hezbollah and Amal carry flags as Lebanese army soldiers are deployed in Beirut, Lebanon amid protests (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR)
Supporters of the Lebanese Shi'ite groups Hezbollah and Amal carry flags as Lebanese army soldiers are deployed in Beirut, Lebanon amid protests
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR)
Violent clashes were reported in the Lebanese capital between protesters, supporters of the Hezbollah terrorist group and security forces as protests intensified over the weekend in Lebanon. 
Supporters of Hezbollah and the pro-Hezbollah Amal Movement attempted to storm a protest in Martyr's Square in central Beirut and near the Ring Bridge on Saturday, according to Al Arabiya. They threw rocks at cars and towards riot police who responded with tear gas. Calm was restored after a Lebanese military unit arrived at the scene.
The Lebanese Internal Security Forces announced that the riot police were subjected to "attacks and throwing of stones and firecrackers by some individuals," demanding "an end to these attacks in order to avoid the adoption of stricter measures," according to the Lebanese National News Agency (NNA).
Protesters clashed with security forces as they attempted to enter Nejmeh Square in downtown Beirut to stage a sit-in outside the Lebanese Parliament on Saturday. Security forces fired tear gas at the protesters as they hit the security forces with everything they could find, according to NNA. Riot police arrived at the scene and ambulances were heard rushing to the area.
The offices of two major political parties were torched in northern Lebanon on Sunday, according to Al-Arabiya. The fires were set hours after over 140 people were injured in the most violent government crackdown on protests in the capital Beirut, as security forces used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse anti-government protests.
The office for caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement party in Kharibet al-Jindi and the office of the Free Patriotic Movement, to which President Michel Aoun is affiliated, in Jedidat al-Juma were torched on Sunday.
Caretaker Minister of Interior and Municipalities Rayya Hassan called on the Internal Security Forces to open an investigation in clashes in downtown Beirut, according to NNA. Hassan also called on demonstrators to be aware of parties trying to exploit their rightful protests with the aim of causing clashes between protesters and security forces who are trying to protect demonstrators.
Director General of the Internal Security Forces Major General Imad Othman asked protesters to keep their movement peaceful and assured them that they would be protected by the Constitution and the law, according to NNA.
"I came here to warn the military that the people here are our people, and this is what I stressed during our meeting in the morning," said Othman.
"It is our joint responsibility, all together, to prevent violence," Othman stressed. "I hope that the demonstrators would provide an example to the whole world about Lebanon's civilized facet." Othman added that security forces are investigating the "regretful" incidents of Saturday night, which led to injuries among security forces and protesters.
MP Anwar El-Khalil condemned the suppression of protests by some security forces and by assailants armed with sticks and sharp objects, stating that such acts "plunge the military institutions into the trap of colliding with citizens and infringing on the Constitution."
El-Khalil called on protesters not to block roads as this harms Lebanese people who are trying to work.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah stated in a televised speech on Friday that Hezbollah is a threat to US project in the region, not to the Lebanese people.
"The US has been interfering in any movement that takes place in the world; it has been rushing to try to exploit popular movements in a way that serves its interests and not those of protesters. We saw this in the Arab Spring, Latin America, and East Asia -- this is the general US behavior," said Nasrallah, according to NNA.
Nasrallah claimed that, contrary to claims by the US, none of the protesters are demonstrating against Hezbollah or Iranian influence in the country. He specifically addressed statements by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who said that Hezbollah is a threat to Lebanon.
"My comment on Pompeo's words: Hezbollah is a threat to Israel, its ambitions, its project, and its hegemony; we all know its greed for land, water, and finally oil and gas. Hezbollah is a great danger to Israel," said Nasrallah.
The Hezbollah leader called the decision by Prime Minister Saad Hariri to step down a "mere waste of time," adding that "the prevailing crisis needs everyone to come together."
Nasrallah denied that members of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement were initiating clashes in the streets of Lebanon. "Amal and Hezbollah have formed committees to control the street. We exercised great control over our streets. House Speaker Nabih Berri and I, as well as the leaders of Amal and Hezbollah, agree that it is necessary to keep calm and not to be drawn into any tension," said Nasrallah.
Hundreds of people had been marching in the capital as part of a historic wave of protests that has swept Lebanon since Oct. 17, furious at a ruling elite that steered the country towards its worst economic crisis in decades.
 
Since the protests pushed Saad al-Hariri to resign as prime minister, talks between the main parties have been deadlocked for weeks over forming a new cabinet.
 
Lebanon urgently needs a new government to pull it out of the crisis. Foreign donors say they will only help after the country gets a cabinet that can enact reforms.

Reuters contributed to this report.