A rocket ripped through Beirut’s Palace of Justice, sparking a huge fire that gutted part of the building and destroyed all the legal records stored there, state-run Beirut radio said Monday.
It said the rocket, fired during militia fighting, struck offices of the Justice Ministry and set ablaze records in the Court of Cassation. All files and documents on civil and criminal cases were reported destroyed.
Muslims Are Blamed
The Palace of Justice, on the Christian eastern side of the city, was hit twice during militia combat last week. Monday’s incident was believed to be the work of Muslim militiamen firing Soviet-made Grad rockets.
Police sources said three people were killed and 17 wounded overnight during the fighting between Christian and Muslim militiamen using rockets and tanks along the so-called Green Line that divides East and West Beirut.
As red flares lit up the night sky, heavy shells whistled over the battle zone and plowed into residential areas, bringing the casualty toll since the lastest bout of fighting broke out April 28 to at least 89 dead and 467 wounded.
Amin Nassar, president of Lebanon’s Higher Judicial Council, described the fire at the Palace of Justice as the “greatest catastrophe” to hit the country in 10 years of civil conflict. He said the damage was estimated in the millions of dollars.
“All files with no exception have been burned, and the rights of citizens from all religions and sects have turned into ashes,” Nassar said in decrying the loss of records of countless pending cases.
As the day wore on, the fighting became sporadic in Beirut but then spread to the nearby Shouf Mountains, where Druze fighters and the army battled around several villages with tanks, rockets and mortars.
Man Killed by Shell
Police said a man was killed in the East Beirut suburb of Baabda late Monday by a stray shell from the Shouf fighting.
Beirut radio said a cease-fire committee made up of representatives from the army and major militias will not meet until a political agreement has been reached on ending the two-week-old fighting in Beirut.
Brig. Jean Nassif, the army’s representative on the committee, said he could not deny the report but added that its four members will stay in contact by radio and telephone in an attempt to stop the fighting.