The Lebanese army says it will not remain neutral and will protect demonstrators gathering in Beirut after blocking Hezbollah and Amal supporters from approaching the protest squares in the capital.https://t.co/hgHPpaRwUP pic.twitter.com/wYkj7YNNCl— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) October 21, 2019
Military and security sources have stressed that the army will not confront protestors."We will not clash with the protesters and make a problem on the ground," said a security source to Asharq Al-Awsat. "If they are convinced, so be it, if they are not the roads will remain closed."A statement by Hezbollah and another statement by Amal denied that the motorcycle parade was endorsed by either movement. During a meeting between the two movements, a statement was made supporting the "sincere" protests of the Lebanese people, but urging the government to adopt the reforms suggested by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Amal officials demanded that their supporters stop any movement in the capital, according to Al-Akhbar. A source close to Hezbollah told Lebanese broadcaster MTV that Hezbollah is waiting to see how the protestors respond to the reform suggestions made by Hariri and is considering the possibility to intervene in support of President Aoun and Hariri if the protestors do not respond positively.
Many protestors have continued to call for the government to step down even after the announcement of the planned financial reforms. Protestors in Martyrs' Square were split between anti-Hezbollah and pro-Hezbollah slogans, while in other demonstrations all the protestors spoke out against the terrorist group. In northern Lebanon a Hezbollah flag was burned, according to Al-Akhbar.
Lebanese protesters burn Hezbollah flag in Triploli.This is a turning point.Lebanon is sick of the Iranian activities in their country. pic.twitter.com/I7qIbH6Vg2— Hananya Naftali (@HananyaNaftali) October 22, 2019
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech that he supported the government, but called for a new agenda and "new spirit," adding that ongoing protests showed the way forward and not new taxes. Nasrallah also claimed that it would take “a year or two” to form a new government and that “time is short.”The terrorist group leader threatened that his supporters would go out into the protests if necessary.A government source told Al Arabiya, there have been efforts by politicians to force the army to stop the protests."Have you seen, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, why the Lebanese people want only the Lebanese army that protects and defends them and defends the homeland? said the head of the Lebanese Movement for Democratic Change Elie Mahfoud. "We told you earlier, put down your weapons. Today we say put down your motorcycles and enough with provoking the Lebanese people."Political sources said that Lebanon has received information from foreign countries warning of acts of sabotage designed to undermine the popular protests in the country or influence the nature and slogans of the protests, according to MTV.Hezbollah will not stand by if it finds evidence that "hostile external forces" are using the protests to target the terrorist group, according to Asharq Al-Awsat.In response to the protests, a US State Department official expressed hope for economic reforms in Lebanon and stressed that the final decision is up to the Lebanese, according to Al-Arabiya.Laure Suleiman, the director of the Lebanese National News Agency, was fired and replaced by a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by President Michel Aoun. Demonstrators claimed that the move was done because the president doesn't want the agency to cover the protests. Kazaeb Party MP Sami Gemayel called on the government to step down."It is the first time in Lebanon's history that we see Lebanese people from all communities and in every region sympathizing with each other," tweeted Gemayel on Monday, urging the government to allow the Lebanese people to decide their fate. Lebanese people from all political and religious sectors, including Christians, have joined the protests in an unprecedented move."We broke barriers today and we are the disposal of the revolution and the uprising of the people," added Gemayel. "We are acting at the disposal of the revolution and the Lebanese people. We want the country to rise and live a new life."Lebanon has one of the highest rates of public debt in the world relative to the size of its economy. The unemployment rate among youth under 35 is at 37%.Reuters and Rachel Wolf contributed to this report.