BEIRUT (AP) — He was only a year old when his panicked father picked him up and they fled with his mother from the gunfire rattling their neighborhood. It was the day Lebanon’s civil war started 46 years ago. His family’s apartment building in Beirut was on the frontline.
Now 47, Bahij Dana did the same thing last week. He evacuated his wife and two of his kids as gun battles raged for hours outside the same building. Civil defense rescuers came to help his father and mother, stuck in the lower floors.
“History is repeating itself,” Dana said.
The battle, Thursday, went on for five hours between supporters of Lebanon’s two powerful Shiite factions and gunmen believed to be supporters of a Christian party. It took place on the line between Beirut’s Chiyah and Ain el-Rumaneh neighborhoods, the same notorious frontline that bisected the capital into warring sections during the country’s dark civil war era.
It was not just memories of the war that were triggered by the scenes of gunmen in streets and schoolchildren ducking under desks. The battles, which left seven dead, also fired up the sectarian passions from that violent past, which Lebanese had learned to brush aside without ever dealing with the causes.
Add to that a bankrupt government, hyperinflation and mounting poverty, and the country of six million is turning into a powder keg on
The clashes erupted over the probe into last year’s massive port blast, as the political elite closed ranks in their efforts to block it.
Despite calls for calm, leaders of Shiite Hezbollah and the rival right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces kept up their heated rhetoric. They brought back civil war jargon, talking about “frontlines” and “neighborhood defenses,” deepening the sense that the pact that kept the social peace since the war has come undone.
“We made up, and now they want to pit us against one another again,” said Camille Hobeika, a 51-year-old mechanic and Christian resident of Ain el-Rumaneh.