Shia Muslim gunmen roamed the streets of West Beirut on Friday, trying to force shopkeepers to ignore a general strike called by rival Sunni Muslims to protest against lawlessness in the area.
The strike, observed by many store owners, came after Sunni militants attacked a series of Shia targets, heightening tensions between West Beirut’s two main Muslim communities.
Armed with AK-47 assault rifles, gunmen of Amal, the Shia militia, spray-painted black X’s on shuttered stores and threatened proprietors who closed shops.
“They came in about a dozen and ordered us to open at gunpoint,” said a young woman running a boutique in the sector’s commercial district.
The owner of a sporting goods shop kept his business open but turned off the lights to discourage customers. “We are trapped between two fires,” he said. “If we close, we’ll have the Amal guys on our backs. If we open, we’ll have to face the Sunni establishment. It’s a no-win situation.”
There were no reports of clashes, but occasional bursts of gunfire echoed through the district Friday morning.
The strike was called by Kamal Chatilla, a leader of the Independent Nasserite Movement, a largely Sunni faction that has criticized the lawlessness in the Lebanese capital.