BEIRUT: The Tripoli municipality building in north Lebanon was set on fire by a group of protesters Thursday night, in what marked the fourth night of protests as the troubled country witnessed growing unrest over the living conditions exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown.
Protesters hurled molotov cocktails and fireworks inside the Tripoli municipality building, setting it on fire, with massive flames and huge plumes of thick black smoke coming out of the building.
Piles of paper, reportedly documents from the building, were seen littering the streets outside the municipality.
Civil Defense units then arrived to the scene to put out the blaze.
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri described the events in Tripoli as "organized crime." He added that it was unacceptable to desecrate public establishments for any political or social purpose.
He questioned why the Army had stood by and allowed these acts to take place. "Who will protect Tripoli, if the Army fails to protect it?" he said.
He called on for those responsible to assume responsibility rather than blame protesters.
"If there is a plan to allow extremism into the city, then who opened the doors to it?" Hariri said in a series of tweets.
"How can the state allow this during the worst and most dangerous phase in the [country's] history?"
Hariri was designated as prime minister more than three months ago but is still unable to form a government crucial to the country's rescue as he and the president bicker over spoils.
Head of the Tripoli municipality Riad Yamak said he stands by "revolutionaries" but noted that "real" protesters do not loot and set fire to establishments.
"What happened at the municipality and public establishments was to distort the image of the revolution," he said.
Politicians have warned against politicizing protests and of "infiltrators" who change the course of protests into violent clashes.
Protesters also stormed the Azm educational center in Tripoli, owned by MP and former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a billionaire from Tripoli.
The Lebanese Red Cross said its teams treated 106 injured people on the scene and transported six to hospital.
The clashes came just hours after a protester died from wounds sustained in similar exchanges in the city Wednesday night. The confrontations since Monday have also left more than 350 people -- both civilians and security personnel -- injured.
Demonstrators took to the streets Thursday after the funeral of Omar Yayba, who had been struck by a live round, and protested outside the homes of some MPs.
Army troops deployed at and around a key square and surrounding streets in a bid to contain the spread of the confrontations.
As clashes continued, a hand grenade landed inside the main government building in Tripoli, mildly injuring a security officer, the ISF said.
Tripoli was already one of Lebanon's poorest areas before the coronavirus pandemic piled new misery atop a chronic economic crisis.
Many of its residents have been left without an income since Lebanon imposed a full lockdown earlier this month in a bid to stem a surge in COVID-19 cases and prevent its hospitals from being overwhelmed.
In a statement released Thursday, the ISF said the situation escalated Wednesday night after "some participants" of the protests started hurling rocks at the main government building and set fire to the guard's room with gasoline, while others broke into the Tripoli Justice Palace, removed the main gate and threw more rocks inside. According to the statement, patrol officers did not react to these actions at first, but the ISF was forced to respond when the protesters started hurling numerous molotov cocktails, fireworks and rocks at security personnel inside the government building.
As security personnel fired tear gas and sprayed water to disperse the protesters from the government building, several shots were heard from "unknown" directions, the statement said.
A total of 300 molotov cocktail bombs and three military grenades were hurled by protesters, with the scene transforming into what resembled a "warzone," the ISF said.
At this point security personnel were prompted to take "legitimate" and "proportionate" actions in line with the law, and fired live ammunition into the air to disperse protesters, some of whom persisted with their attacks. Security personnel were forced to return fire in self-defense as some shots came from "unknown" directions from outside the main government building, according to the ISF.
A total of 47 police were injured as a result of Wednesday night's clashes, with 12 wounded from hand grenades and hospitalized, the ISF statement said.