QABR SHMOUN, Lebanon: In the waiting room at Qabr Shmoun Hospital, a woman wailed the name of a loved one killed in Sunday’s shooting.
The small Aley town remained in visible shock several hours after an exchange of gunfire between a convoy carrying Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh al-Gharib and local supporters of the Progressive Socialist Party.
Two men died in the shootout and at least two others were injured.
Outside the hospital, groups of men stood smoking cigarettes and speaking tensely.
At the center of one group stood a victim’s father. He leaned on a parked car, smoking deeply, only pausing to receive phone calls from concerned family members.
Without warning, a young man burst through the hospital’s doors swearing loudly. He was immediately encircled by family members who attempted to console him.
Just several hundred meters down the street, bullet casings scattered the junction where locals said the altercation took place. All shops were shuttered and the vicinity was empty of women and children. Some men observed cautiously as members of the Internal Security Forces arrived to begin investigations into the incident.
The tragic events started as a peaceful attempt to prevent a convoy carrying Free Patriotic Leader Gebran Bassil from passing through Qabr Shmoun, local eyewitnesses said.
“The convoy arrived and people were already protesting and burning tires,” A.M., a member of the Progressive Socialist Party’s youth wing, told The Daily Star.
A.M., who asked that his name be withheld, lives in the nearby village of Baysour but was visiting Qabr Shmoun for an event in the town.
The protesters believed that the arriving convoy belonged to Bassil, A.M. said, when in fact it belonged to Gharib - a member of the Lebanese Democratic Party headed by Druze leader Talal Arslan. As soon as Gharib’s bodyguards saw the blocked road, they began firing on the crowd, multiple eyewitnesses said.
“A group of [the bodyguards] got out and opened fire on people. ... [The protesters] were all civilians and youth,” A.M. said. Gharib disputed this account and claimed his convoy was fired on first in what he said was an assassination attempt.
Another eyewitness showed The Daily Star photos of the smashed rear windscreen of his car, which he alleged had been caused by the bodyguards’ initial fire. Nearby several parked cars were peppered with bullet holes. A large black patch could be seen on the asphalt where PSP supporters burned tires and other objects in order to block the street. Black marks had also made their way up a residential house adjacent to the road, whose windows had also been smashed in the gunfire.
Although A.M. insisted the PSP supporters were unarmed, he admitted that two of their members had concealed weapons with which they returned fire, injuring four bodyguards. “They shot at the convoy as a reaction to what they did,” he said.
A.M. added that if the protesters had known the convoy belonged to Gharib, they would have allowed it to pass. “There is a huge political crisis between [the PSP and the LDP]. But not to the extent that this would happen. We belong to the same sect. ... This is a red line - this is forbidden.”