BEIRUT: The Lebanese army said on Thursday that ammunition was on board a truck that overturned the previous evening and prompted a clash that left two people dead in a mountain village southeast of Beirut.
At least two people were killed a day earlier in clashes between armed Hezbollah fighters and Christian residents of a mountain village, after a militia truck overturned on the road between Damascus and Beirut.
Shots were fired after Hezbollah operatives who were escorting the vehicle surrounded the truck, which crashed on a downhill turn near Kahaleh, about 15km from the Lebanese capital. Security sources said one of the dead was a Hezbollah member and the other was villager Fadi Bejjani, 60.
TV footage showed men in plainclothes firing rifles in the street. A third person was reportedly injured in the shootout, and bullets damaged nearby buildings.
Lebanese army troops were deployed around the lorry at nightfall while a crane was used to remove wooden crates from it. Witnesses said the boxes appeared to be ammunition crates, but there was no official confirmation. The truck was plain white in color with no military markings. Hezbollah later confirmed the truck belonged to them and one of their members had been killed while securing it.
Church bells rang in the village to call people to gather. There were confrontations between villagers and the army as soldiers tried to prevent civilians from approaching the truck.
The vehicle overturned at a notorious accident spot on the treacherous, winding road, which has many dangerous curves. Witnesses said the driver was injured when it overturned and fled the scene.
A village spokesperson said they would not allow the vehicle to be moved, and urged “the Lebanese state to carry out its duties.” He added: “The army personnel who are present do nothing.”
According to reports from the scene, army forces prevented photographers from taking pictures of the crash site and the license plate of the truck had been covered up.
Arab News contacted State Security for more information about the incident but its media office refused to provide any details “until Thursday morning.”
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he spoke to Gen. Joseph Aoun, commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, about the incident. He asked the general “to expedite the ongoing investigations to reveal what happened, in parallel with taking the required field measures to control the situation,” according to Mikati’s media office.
Hezbollah acknowledged that the truck belonged to it and had been traveling from the Bekaa Valley. The group added that its “members were making contact to ask for help to remove the truck from the road, as a number of armed men from militias present in the area gathered and they assaulted” those accompanying the truck “in an attempt to control it.”
It added: “They threw stones at the truck first then opened fire, which resulted in the injury of one of the Hezbollah members who were protecting the truck. He was taken to hospital where he died later.
“An exchange of gunfire took place with the attacking gunmen, and a force from the Lebanese army intervened and prevented these gunmen from approaching or controlling the truck.”
Representatives of the people of Kahaleh responded by saying: “Hezbollah is the militia, not us.”
The Lebanese Forces party said the people of the country are paying the price for the security chaos and the proliferation of illegal weapons in Lebanon.
It accused Hezbollah militants of “shooting directly at the civilians who gathered, which led to the death of Fadi Youssef Bejjani, who was trying to save the truck driver.”
— with agencies