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Were Illegal Weapons Used against the Demonstrators on Saturday in Beirut?

"I saw victims who were shot in the face, in the heart, in the hands with lead pellet bullets...We are in the process of compiling files in order to file a complaint," said Melhem Khalaf, president of the Beirut Bar Association.

Were Illegal Weapons Used against the Demonstrators on Saturday in Beirut?

The evacuation of a protester injured during Saturday's clashes. Photo João Sousa

It was Saturday, mid-afternoon, a few hours after the start of the demonstrations, maybe less. Some news alarmed the demonstrators. Law enforcement forces are reportedly firing live am-munition at protesters gathered in downtown Beirut to shout out their anger at the explosion that devastated part of the capital four days earlier.

Among the means mobilized by law enforcement forces, some weapons were used in full view of everyone. The tear gas shower was broadcast live on television. It is well known that rubber bullets injured people and that, at the very least, live ammunition was fired into the air in order to push back the crowds. What about stun grenades? "They don't startle people anymore be-cause we're so used to them," said one protester.

But rumors of new ammunition, including lead pellet bullets, meant that an additional step had been taken. According to several witnesses, these are small particles that, once fired into the air, scatter over a wide area. These are hunting cartridges used to shoot "boars, birds ... or de-monstrators," according to one protester. "I've seen victims who have been shot in the face, in the heart, in the hands with lead pellets... We're in the process of compiling files, six of which are currently in progress, with the help of volunteer lawyers and medical examiners, in order to file a complaint," said Melhem Khalaf, president of the Beirut Bar Association.

On Sunday evening, the Internal Security Forces denied having used rubber bullets, while the Army denied having used live ammunition against the demonstrators. But according to a provi-sional assessment by the Committee of Lawyers for the Defense of Demonstrators published on Saturday evening, 50 injured people, including journalists and lawyers, were taken to hospital, including some hit by gunshots. By the end of the day on Sunday, the latest toll was over 90 people injured, 10 of them seriously.

A series of clues consisting of testimonials, videos and photos illustrate and clarify the reality of these figures. A chest X-ray shows the dozens of micro-impacts that a single shot from these lead pellet cartridges can create. One protester certified that he saw a man in his sixties being shot in the head before being urgently evacuated by rescue workers. A soldier threw stones, and at his side, a man in black came running forward, a gun in hand, shooting at close range.


"Never Seen Before"

However, a proportionate and gradual response, the prohibition of firearms, or the restriction of the use of tear gas bombs and rubber bullets are among the basic principles regulating riot control. "They are not allowed to use tear gas before they use water cannons. The next step, that of tear gas, is regulated according to specific standards. Third, only in life-threatening situ-ations can rubber bullets be used at more than 40 meters away, and only on the lower limbs," explained Khalaf. But the methods used on Saturday, including the use of lead pellet bullets, tear gas canisters as a first line of defense or rubber bullets fired close and in the direction of the upper limbs, flout even the most basic international standards. "This has never been seen before, completely unacceptable and staggering," Khalaf said.

Some of the ammunition is new. The method, however, is not. Since the October 17 movement, law enforcement agencies have become accustomed to a disproportionate use of force. More-over, they have never sought to conceal their objectives: to disperse the crowds, to safeguard the power in place and, above all, to silence the revolt. Like in a video, where a woman protests against the ruling power in front of a camera of Al-Hurra channel. She did not have time to fin-ish her sentence; she just got hit by a lead pellet in the lips. The images were better than words in exposing the will to impose silence.

Yet despite an almost familiar brutality, Saturday's images are stunning. Maybe more than usual. The images are blood-curdling, especially since the blood of the more than 150 people killed on August 4 has not yet dried. With a few clicks, the images become the symbol of a power that insists on denying all responsibility but which, on the ground, turns against its own people.


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 10th of August)


It was Saturday, mid-afternoon, a few hours after the start of the demonstrations, maybe less. Some news alarmed the demonstrators. Law enforcement forces are reportedly firing live am-munition at protesters gathered in downtown Beirut to shout out their anger at the explosion that devastated part of the capital four days earlier.

Among the means mobilized by law enforcement forces, some...

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