Lebanon has declared a day of sorrowing for Friday after at least six people died and dozens were wounded in deadly combat in Beirut.
Shooting broke out in the course of a protest by Shia Muslim groups against the judge probing last year’s huge blast at the city’s port.
Hezbollah, which started the protest, says protester were fired on by terrorist on rooftops.
They accused a Christian group, although the faction rebuff the allegation.
Huge anxiety surrounds the investigation into the port detonation that killed 219 in August 2020.
Swathes of the city were wrecked by the blast, but no-one has yet been held responsible.
Hezbollah and its collaborators say the probing judge is biased, but the casualties’ families support his work.
The tensions around the Beirut blast probe
The ship of ‘lost lives and dreams’
The inferno and the mystery ship
What started as a disagreement outside the Palace of Justice – the main court building – by hundreds of people questioning the probe had become politicized and seeking the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar swiftly shoot up.
Heavy shooting erupted in the streets as large number of people passed through a roundabout in the central Tayouneh-Badaro area.
Local residents had to run away from their homes and schoolchildren took cover under their desks as Gunmen armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers – confirmed to have been members of Shia and Christian militias – exchanged bullets in the streets.
The encounter continued for many hours before peace was restored.
At a school nearby, a witness told Reuters news agency that teachers directed young children to lie face down on the ground with their hands on their heads, a witness told Reuters news agency.
Some of those killed had been shot in the head, Hospital and military sources said. They included a woman who was killed by a stray bullet right inside her home.
For now, an uneasy truce
Anna Foster, BBC News, Beirut
The streets around Tayouneh are still thickly carpeted with badly damaged glass after hours of gun and rocket encounter.
Some families who live there left their homes last night for fear of violence flared again.
President Aoun said it wasn’t tolerable for arms to return as communication between the Lebanese parties. But these break-up run deep.
Shia politicians accuse the presiding judge Tarek Bitar of prejudice.
Still families of those who died in the port blast back him, saying MPs are trying to dodge justice.
In the mean time there’s an uneasy ceasefire. However, all sides are waiting to see what direction the probe will now take, and whether its outcome might be swayed.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea condemned the brutality and made a serious, urgent, heartfelt request for calm.
“The main cause of these developments lies in the presence of uncontrolled and widespread weapons that threaten the citizens at any time and in any place,”
Mr Mikati appealed to everyone to
“calm down and not be drawn into sedition for any reason whatsoever”.
The army said it had positioned troops to search for the attackers, and cautioned that they would
“shoot at any gunman on the roads”.
Initially on Thursday, a court lay aside a legal complaint brought by two former government ministers and Amal MPs – Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zaiter – whom Judge Bitar has demanded to question on suspicion of carelessness in connection with the port eruption.
The two men, who deny any misconduct, accused the judge of prejudice.
Families of the sufferers had condemned the complaint, which caused the probe to be put on hold for the second time in three weeks.
They have alleged that the country’s political leadership was trying to shield itself from scrutiny.
“Keep your hands off the judiciary,”
they warned the cabinet on Wednesday after ministers allied to Hezbollah moved for Judge Bitar to be replaced.
The port eruption occurred after a fire detonated 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a combustible chemical widely used as agricultural fertilizer, that had been stored carelessly in a port warehouse for about six years.
Senior officials knew of the material’s existence and the danger it posed but did nothing to secure, remove or destroy it.