BEIRUT: Dozens of protesters rallying against a plan to build a hospital near a Beirut park on Thursday were met with violence by some local residents.
"When the protesters arrived today (Thursday) to prepare for their rally, they were attacked by around 50 youth holding batons," Mohammad Ayoub, the director of the NGO Nahnoo, told a local TV channel.
“The police and the army watched it happen and did nothing,” Ayoub told Al-Jadeed, holding the Internal Security Forces responsible for the assault.
He claimed that the same men had also gone to people’s homes in the area and warned residents against attending the rally under the threat of violence.
The park, Horsh Beirut, is near Beirut’s Al-Tariq al-Jadidah neighborhood.
Former Mayor Bilal Hamad’s municipal council approved the plan for the Egyptian hospital in 2016, after it was decided in 2014 that the Beirut Arab University hospital should be moved.
The project drew the ire of some of the nearby residents, who use the area for recreational activities that are not permitted within the gates of Horsh Beirut.
Police deployed in the area, separating the two groups in an attempt to placate both sides.
The protesters held several banners, one of which read: "Stop your nibbling policy."
"Horsh Beirut is a protected natural site. Keep your projects away from it," another read.
One protester bearing a visible head injury recounted how he had been attacked to Al-Jadeed.
“When I told them I’m from We Want Accountability, they immediately attacked me and kicked me in the stomach,” he said, adding that he had been assaulted in front of a military post.
An elderly woman at the protest, who resides in the area, told Al-Jadeed that she was "not against the hospital, but ... against building it over Horsh Beirut. There are other plots of land in the area.”
She called on the municipality to plant trees instead.
Beirut municipality candidate from the independent slate Citizens Within A State, Ghada el-Yafi, was also present at the protest.
“This (Horsh Beirut) is our heritage. It’s our only space left here,” she told Al-Jadeed. Similar clashes have occurred during previous protests between activists who oppose the hospital and youth who reside in the area.
The Beirut Municipal Council issued a statement later on Thursday denying allegations that the municipality was effectively reducing green spaces in the area.
"Beirut Municipal Council affirms that it adopts a strategy to increase green spaces," the statement said.