Lebanon military court to ask LF’s Geagea for statement on violence, sources say

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Army soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint in Beirut

BEIRUT -A Lebanese military court will ask Lebanese Forces (LF) party leader Samir Geagea to give a statement about last week’s deadly street violence in Beirut, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

Geagea, who was due to appear shortly on a local television show, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An LF spokesperson said Geagea had so far not been informed of any court request to give a statement.

The sources did not say when the court would ask him to give the statement.

The bloodshed, in which seven Shi’ites were killed, was the worst street violence Beirut in over a decade.

The gunfire started as supporters of the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal were gathering for a demonstration called for by the parties against the lead investigator of the deadly Beirut port blast probe.

The army is still investigating what happened.

Hezbollah, which is heavily armed, has accused the Christian Lebanese Forces Party of being responsible, saying it staged an ambush.

The LF, which is staunchly opposed to Hezbollah, denies this.

Geagea has said the trouble began when supporters of the Shi’ite parties entered a Christian neighbourhood where they vandalised cars and four residents were wounded before a shot was fired. In an interview last Friday, he said he did not know who had opened fire.

The army said on Saturday a soldier suspected of opening fire towards the protesters was under investigation.

The day of the incident, the army initially said gunfire had targeted protesters as they passed through the Teyouneh traffic circle dividing Christian and Shi’ite Muslim neighbourhoods. It later said there had been an “altercation and exchange of fire” as protesters were on their way to the demonstration.

The violence including the use of rocket-propelled grenades lasted several hours and stirred memories of the 1975-1990 civil war. It has added to fears for the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and suffering an economic meltdown.

Hezbollah’s chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah made a scathing verbal attack on Geagea and his party in a televised speech on Monday and accused the group of trying to drag the country into civil war.

Geagea’s upcoming comments in Thursday’s interview to the local MTV channel show will be the first since Nasrallah’s speech.

(Reporting By Laila Bassam, writing by Maha El Dahan, editing by Mark Heinrich and Angus MacSwan)