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Lebanon's Christian rivalries return amid crisis

Religious rivalries spilling over into political debate in Lebanon, as Christian factions clashed this week on the streets of Beirut.

There were differing accounts about who was responsible for firing gunshots into the air, but those on both sides said Monday's (September 14) events were a reminder of long-running hostilities.

Memories of fighting during the country’s civil war have renewed fears of fresh unrest, as the nation grapples with its worst crisis since the fifteen year conflict, which ended in 1990.

The rivalry today is about more than Christian politics.

Lebanon's president Michel Aoun is allied with Hezbollah, the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi'ite party.

While Samir Geagea leads opposition to Hezbollah, saying it should surrender its weapons.

Elias al-Zoghby, is a member of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). He said they were provoked by supporters of the opposition Lebanese Forces (LF) who drove towards his party's headquarters.

"There's freedom of speech and expression, they can go in convoys night and day, but they cannot approach our headquarters like this, to assault our men is forbidden. There are limits they can not cross. This is a red line."

The army said shots were fired without saying by whom. It said LF supporters had thrown stones at the FPM offices.

One video showed men firing machine guns into the air. In another, men in masks burned an LF flag.

Both sides have called for restraint, while accusing each other of acting like a militia.

The stand-off was the latest in a country that has seen sporadic violence intensify as an economic crisis that erupted last year has deepened.

It was compounded by the huge blast that destroyed Beiruit’s port area and ripped through large parts of the city last month.

Video Transcript

- Religious rivalry spilling over into political debate in Lebanon, as Christian factions clash this week on the streets of Beirut. There were differing accounts about who was responsible for firing gunshots into the air. But those on both sides said Monday's events were a reminder of long-running hostilities.

Memories of fighting during the country's civil war have renewed fears of fresh unrest, as the nation grapples with its worst crisis since the 15 year conflict, which ended in 1990. The rivalry today is about more than Christian politics. Lebanon's president Michel Aoun is allied with Hezbollah, the heavily armed Iran-backed Shiite party, while Samir Geagea leads opposition to Hezbollah, saying it should surrender its weapons.

Elias al-Zoghby is a member of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement. He said they were provoked by supporters of the opposition Lebanese Forces, who drove towards his party's headquarters.

ELIAS AL-ZOGHBY: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: There is freedom of speech and expression. They can go in convoys night and day, but they cannot approach our headquarters like this. To assault our men is forbidden. There are limits they cannot cross. This is a red line.

- The army said shots were fired without saying by whom. It said LF supporters had thrown stones at the FMP officers. One video showed men firing machine guns into the air. In another, men in masks burned an LF flag. Both sides have called for restraint, while accusing the other of acting like a militia.

The standoff was the latest in a country that has seen sporadic violence intensify, as an economic crisis that erupted last year has deepened. It was compounded by the huge blast that destroyed Beirut's port area and ripped through large parts of the city last month.