By Arab News
By Najia Houssari
Gunfire hit the car of Lebanon’s caretaker Defense Minister Maurice Sleem on Thursday afternoon as he was driving in a convoy near Beirut.
No one was hurt in the incident in the Jisr Al-Basha area, located in the eastern suburbs of Beirut.
Sleem told reporters: “I am fine, but gunfire hit the rear window of my car.”
The incident coincided with the funeral of a Hezbollah member who died in Kahaleh on Wednesday night.
Intense gunfire erupted during the procession at a Hezbollah-affiliated cemetery in El-Ghbaire, in the southern suburbs of Beirut around 1 km from Jisr Al-Basha.
The Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces told Arab News neither had any knowledge of an assassination attempt.
Early on Thursday, specialized security agencies initiated investigations 15 hours after a truck belonging to Hezbollah overturned on the Kahaleh road 15 km east of Beirut.
Gunfire ensued between Hezbollah members and villagers, resulting in the deaths of two people.
The investigation is under the supervision of the government commissioner at the Military Court, Judge Fadi Akiki. The Lebanese Army successfully lifted the overturned truck at 4 a.m. on Thursday and reopened the road in both directions.
The army confirmed in a statement that the truck was carrying ammunition, which was subsequently transported to a military facility.
Security measures remained in place in Kahaleh on Thursday and on the main road connecting Beirut to the Bekaa Valley, extending toward Syria.
Soldiers and military vehicles were stationed at points in adjacent areas such as Qmatiyeh and the road leading to Aley town.
Tony Bejjani, a member of Kahaleh’s municipal council, told Arab News: “The town’s dignitaries have been making continuous efforts since the incident to calm the situation.”
He added: “When the truck overturned, no one knew what was inside it. Local residents rushed to aid those inside, but the injured truck driver urged them to keep their distance.
“Some locals inspected the scattered cargo on the road, only for armed individuals to suddenly appear. These individuals, seemingly from another group, waited in silence, likely awaiting assistance from their own party.
“It wasn’t until the nature of the cargo — ammunition — became evident that they emerged.”
A verbal altercation escalated into armed Hezbollah members firing shots into the air, attempting to disperse the agitated crowd. In response, the crowd retaliated by throwing stones both at the truck and the Hezbollah members.
Fadi Bejjani was at his residence along the main road, and upon hearing gunfire, he grabbed his rifle and rushed outside. He witnessed Hezbollah militants firing at people and attempted to return fire. He was shot multiple times.
According to preliminary findings from the investigation and the forensic report, “Fadi Bejjani sustained three fatal gunshot wounds, whereas the deceased Hezbollah member, identified as Ahmed Ali Qassas, was struck by seven bullets.”
Tony Bejjani added: “The deceased had been battling lung cancer and was 63 years old.”
He continued: “People are extremely resentful. No one was convinced to reopen the road.
“The army was deployed in the area, so would people clash with the army? The incident has occurred, and now it must be dealt with and managed. The residents are unorganized and not a militia, as claimed by Hezbollah in its statement.
“People are angry and vindictive. Currently, there are three battalions of the Lebanese Army in the area. Given the circumstances, it is imperative to restore calm.”
Lebanese Kataeb Party leader and MP, Sami Gemayel, said that Lebanon finds itself “in a dangerous position, and we cannot continue like this.”
Gemayel added: “We have reached a point of no return as the interconnected problems stem from the existence of arms outside the state’s framework, controlled by militias and individuals, under the protection of a state held hostage.”
Reformist MP Michel Douaihy said that “the remnants of the state and its institutions have fallen, much like the overturned truck.”
The Free Patriotic Movement said that the incident “rings the alarm for the impending danger that threatens a deteriorating state and society.”
Emphasizing the state’s duty, it asserted that “with its security and judicial agencies, the state must control the situation, conduct inquiries, unearth the truth, and repel any efforts to incite tension, an agenda sought by many.”
MP Ashraf Rifi, representing the Sovereign Front, said: “The government has lost its legitimacy, and these weapons cannot be labeled as resistance weapons when they are aimed at us.”