Hundreds of masked men are setting fire to tires and dumpsters after filling them with fuel in Beirut and other areas. Eyewitnesses told me that they saw bulldozers assisting the protestors by shoveling dirt and dumping it on some of the roads. Trucks were also seen transporting tires and metal barriers to various points in the capital. They were not intercepted by the army or security forces.
The Lebanese army so far has been letting the protestors block the roads for a while, to then re-open them, although not in Beirut so far. This seems to be their “neutral” strategy. In fact, as of 7:30 AM Beirut time, most of the roads and tunnels in Beirut are blocked, including the airport road. The sky is filled with black smoke from the burning tires, and visibility is zero. Universities and schools are open, and so are most businesses. But the morning commute has been disrupted, and the army has failed to secure safe roads for citizens. There are unconfirmed reports of stoning at several locations by protestors. There are also reports of citizens leaving their cars at home and walking to work.
In the north and in Byblos, LBC and Future TV are reporting clashes between commuters and rioters. Several persons were wounded. A couple of cars were torched.
I call on all my readers in Lebanon to post updates about the situation in the comments section.
The Lebanese army is being criticized for not carrying out its duty. In many instances, it looked like they were guarding the roadblocks.
"They are either failing in their duty or collaborating by protecting the demonstrators instead of opening the roads and protecting citizens who want to go to work," Geagea added. Former MP Fares Soaid, a main figure in the anti-Syrian camp, also urged government forces "not to take part in this blatant coup." "The security forces are providing complete protection for those closing the roads, but they are not providing complete protection for those trying to go to work," Soaid charged.
"If the security forces continue to fail to carry out their duty, people will go down and open the roads by themselves and there will be pressure from a popular movement," he said. Druze MP Akram Shehayyeb, a member of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, said "the army has to carry out its duty... because if it remains neutral, there will be a confrontation among the people."
Future TV is reporting that Hizbullah is bussing people from outside Beirut to predominantly Sunni neighborhoods, especially Tarik Jdeedeh. Clashes erupted between Sunni residents and "gunmen".
Hizbullah is calling this an "intifada". And indeed, their supporters are now stoning anti-Hizbullah residents of Beirut. March 14 MP Walid Eido says that Beirut is "being occupied by the Hizbullah militia...".
Update 2. LBC is showing footage of Hizbullah youth throwing rocks at the Lebanese army in Corniche al-Mazraa in true "intifada style".
Update 3. Fares Soaid is lashing out at the security forces for arresting residents trying to open the roads after the failure of the army to do so. It seems the army's strategy is to avoid confrontation and clashes at any cost, even if it means letting the protestors maintain roadblocks. In some instances where the army did try to clear rubble and burning tires, they were stoned by "opposition" members.
Update 4. Hizbullah thugs armed with sticks, rocks and in some cases guns are storming Beirut neighborhoods. Some were seen approaching the Future TV news building in Raouche. ISF and army troops trying to stop their advance are being attacked.
Security forces are being extremely lax and unorganized-- intervening only when it's too late.
Future TV reported that vans carrying covered Hizbullah women are supplying the rioters with rocks.
Update 5. The riots have degenerated into street warfare between Sunnis, Shias and Christians Two have been killed and 50 wounded so far, according to Naharnet.
PM Siniora held a press conference and demanded an extraordinary parliament session to deal with the escalating situation.
Saniora said the general strike called by the opposition has developed into "provocations that went beyond all limits." "Blocking roads…is an aggression on the people and their freedoms. It is an attack on social order and it involves risks that are hidden to nobody."
Naharnet has a good roundup here. With the army reluctant to clear the roadblocks in some areas, some residents have decided to take matters into their own hands.
Update 6. March 14 is calling on people to take to the streets to confront the rioters and clear the roadblocks themselves if the Lebanese army doesn't carry out its duty. Beirut residents are boiling with anger, and there are rumors of taking up arms against the "Hizbullah occupiers".
Update 7. From Naharnet:
The opposition on Tuesday called off its violent one-day protest that claimed at least three lives and wounded 62 people as the pro-government majority urged its followers to be on stand-by to “break the siege of Beirut” if the army does not carry out the mission.
I say break that damn siege now, and start with downtown Beirut. This should not have been allowed to happen.