BEIRUT: Drivers on the Beirut-Damascus highway sat in immobile bumper-to-bumper traffic Monday morning after members of the Lebanese Democratic Party briefly blocked the road with burning tires in Aley’s Baalshmey. “It usually takes me an hour and 15 minutes to get from the Bekaa to Beirut. It took me 2 1/2 hours,” said Imad Shall, a 23-year-old student at the Lebanese American University.
Shall said he left his house at 9:30 a.m. and took the Dahr al-Baidar road before seeing the protesters blocking the way. “Their faces were covered - they were carrying weapons and had lit tires on fire. Everyone was prevented from crossing,” Shall told The Daily Star.
Images on local media showed plumes of black smoke on the highway emerging from burning tires.
The state-run National News Agency reported that the tires had been set alight by LDP supporters.
Armed men were shooting into the air, it added.
Shall said he waited in standstill traffic for an hour before taking back roads through the villages to get to Beirut. But he added that “not many people know these back roads, so most stayed stuck on the highway until they were allowed to pass through.”
He said many of his friends decided not to make the trip from the Bekaa Valley because their families feared for their safety.
“The road is very important since it links Beirut to the mountains, to the Bekaa, and many people from these areas use it to go to work and to school,” Shall said.
The roadblocks also affected 24-year-old Marwa Abi Faraj’s decision to go to work. Faraj lives in Baalshmey and works in Beirut’s Ashrafieh neighborhood.
“I didn’t go to work because of the security situation. Once we hear that everything is fine, I’ll go back to work,” she said.
By 11:30 a.m., the highway had been reopened following a request from the LDP’s head, Druze leader Talal Arslan. Members of the Civil Defense arrived at the scene to extinguish the fires, and Army personnel were also present.
The incident came a day after Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib, who is allied with the LDP, was driving in a convoy through the Aley village of Qabr Shmoun when gunmen opened fire, killing two of his bodyguards and wounding at least two others in his group.
At least two supporters of the Progressive Socialist Party, a rival Druze party, were also wounded.