Lebanon’s President Aoun calls for peace after night of sectarian clashes

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After a night of clashes between Sunni and Shia youth in several Beirut neighborhoods that, for many, raised troubling memories of the country’s civil war, Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for a return to peace and for parties to refrain from insulting each other’s religious symbols.

The night of street fights followed tensions that broke out after a protest in downtown Beirut Saturday afternoon in which protesters renewed calls for early elections, anti-corruption and economic justice measures. Some groups in the protest also took the opportunity to call for disarmament of Hezbollah.

The situation escalated after videos circulated on social media of some Shiite youth insulting Aisha, the wife of the Prophet Mohammed, who is held in high regard by Sunnis.

Read more: Lebanon protests: Two injured after Hezbollah, Amal gunfire in Beirut neighborhoods

No deaths were reported, but videos shared on social media showed gunfire erupting in multiple neighborhoods of Beirut.

Aoun wrote on Twitter Sunday that the previous night’s events should serve as a “wake-up call” and called on “wise people who lived through the events of 1975-1976 (the beginning of the Lebanese civil war) to stop the discord caused by violating our religious, spiritual and moral sanctities.”

He wrote, “It’s the right of our young people for us to give them a decent life, not to push them to fighting, bloodshed, and contempt for sacred things.”

Read more: Lebanon protesters stand off with Hezbollah, Amal supporters

Nabih Berri condemns clashes

Other political figures joined in condemning the sectarian provocations. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, head of the Shia Amal party, wrote in a statement that “insulting of Islamic and Christian holy sites, symbols and sacred places is condemned and denounced” and specifically condemned the insults to the Prophet’s wife. Berri added, “Every act from any party that targets the unity of the Lebanese, their security, stability, and their life as one, is an Israeli act.”

Shiite and Sunni religious authorities also called for calm and for followers to refrain from insulting the religious figures of other sects.

Clashes began Saturday afternoon with a group of Hezbollah and Amal supporters descending on the protest square, but the two groups were broken up by soldiers and riot police. But later violence continued between Sunni and Shia youth in other neighborhoods of Beirut, including Ain el Remmaneh – known as the site of the clashes that began the Lebanese Civil War – Tariq el Jdideh, Corniche el Mazraa and Barbur, with videos widely shared of gunfire in the streets.

The Lebanese Red Cross had earlier reported that 48 were wounded in the protest, in clashes between protesters and counter-protesters as well as between protesters and security forces.

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