The Lebanese army on Monday night moved in to break up a group of hundreds of men on mopeds driving through central Beirut with flags of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement chanting slogans against the mass demonstrations now in their sixth day.
Videos shared online show about 30 officers moving in with sticks and batons to turn back the moped riders, several of whom were detained. At least one officer with his weapon raised running towards the convoy as it quickly scattered up side streets.
The video shows the convoy heading down Beshara Khoury Street in central Beirut and heading towards Martyrs’ Square, the epicentre of the week-long protests.
Both Hezbollah and the Amal Movement quickly released statements denying that they had sent the convoy to the streets.
Convoys of political supporters, particularly the Shiite majority Hezbollah and Amal Movement, are not uncommon. In previous protests or during political tension, they have been known to instigate violence, often with impunity.
The army and the police often do not intervene.
In south Lebanon at the weekend, protesters faced off against armed men they said were Amal supporters who attacked the demonstration.
Numerous politicians have said there should be no repeat of the instance and UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, met Amal head and parliament speaker Nabih Berri on Monday to discuss the incident.
The action by the authorities on Monday night, therefore, marks a rare move and came after a speech by Prime Minister Saad Hariri after a Cabinet session that he would not allow anyone to intimidate or attack the protesters.
Many Lebanese activists and protesters online have shared the video of the army’s intervention and others of the men driving through Beirut warning that the convoy was the start of an attempted counter movement by political parties.
But it so far remains unclear exactly where Hezbollah, in particular, stands on the movement.
At the weekend, the Iran-backed group’s leader made a speech in which he said he supported the aims of the protesters and also tried to echo the demands of the movement in saying that he would order his party to the streets if new taxes were included in the 2020 budget.
But at the same time, he has said he doesn’t want Mr Hariri to resign and said that attempts to topple President Michel Aoun would be fruitless.
Political allies of Hezbollah have also condemned the convoy of men on Monday night.