Security tightened around Beirut airport following clashes
Footage of Lebanese gunmen firing in the air as a plane landed nearby has sparked warnings of a growing threat to aircraft and passenger safety at Beirut airport.
The footage was taken on Monday during armed clashes in a southern suburb of the capital, adjacent to one of the airport’s open runways.
Rivals fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades after an argument between two families developed into a violent confrontation during a night of terror in the city.
An informed source told Arab News: “The aircraft crew were terrified during the landing, fearing a bullet could hit the plane and cause a catastrophe.”
The incident has raised further questions about aviation safety at the airport, the only remaining outlet for the Lebanese, as well as Syrians who use it to travel abroad, in addition to international and relief organizations, including the UN and UNIFIL peacekeepers.
A Middle East Airlines aircraft traveling from Jordan was hit by a stray bullet while landing in Beirut in November 2022. Lebanese MP Paula Yacoubian was among the passengers on the flight. No one was hurt.
Airport facilities are frequently struck by stray bullets fired during funerals or celebrations in nearby neighborhoods.
Information International, a Beirut-based research consultancy firm, published a study in 2021 showing that on average seven people are killed and 15 injured by stray bullets in Lebanon every year.
The report said that 81 people died and 169 others were wounded by random gunfire between 2010 and 2021.
Shootings take place in the area surrounding the airport almost daily, either as a result of individual clashes or the security services cracking down on criminals.
The area is considered a Hezbollah and Amal Movement stronghold, and weapons are commonplace.
A security source said that most residents were from the Baalbek-Hermel region, and that many wanted criminals hid among the population, which includes hundreds of poorer families.
Security forces were deployed all over Beirut and tight security measures implemented after Monday’s night of terror.
Ali Hamieh, caretaker minister of public works and transport, said that seven people were arrested by the Lebanese army.
Troops are still deployed near the airport as part of a security crackdown, he said.
“The shooting was an unfortunate incident, but maintaining airport security and aviation safety is a priority for the Lebanese state. We will not be lenient when it comes to such cases and anyone who fires shots randomly in the vicinity of the airport will be detained,” Hamieh said.
Brig. Gen. Elias Baissari, acting director-general of general security, met officials at the airport and highlighted the importance of cooperation between the security and civil services to ensure traveler safety.
Meanwhile, Ain Al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon is the scene of growing tension following clashes last week between militants from the Fatah movement and the Asbat Al-Ansar group, which resulted in the death of Fatah member Mahmoud Zubaidat.
Asbat Al-Ansar refuses to hand over the murderer to the Lebanese authorities. Security information indicates that the man has since gone into hiding and the Fatah movement has been on the alert in neighborhoods it controls in the camp.