BEIRUT, Lebanon – Protesters angry over an Israeli airstrike that killed more than 50 people broke into the main U.N. building in the Lebanese capital Sunday, burning U.N. and American flags and damaging some offices.
Around 5,000 protesters massed outside the empty building and chanted anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans.
Dozens of angry demonstrators, carrying yellow flags of the militant Hezbollah group and chanting "We are all resistance!" climbed over a two-meter high fence outside the United Nations office in downtown Beirut. They broke windows on the ground floor and burned a U.N. flag.
A handful of protesters broke into the building. Arab TV channels showed footage of the protesters inside, breaking down doors and pounding the walls with bats or broom handles.
The protest came hours after Israeli missiles hit a building in the Lebanese town of Qana. Officials said at least 56 people, including more than 30 children, were killed in the attack.
A U.N. statement said there were more than 80 Lebanese and foreign staff members in the building at the time of the incident. The demonstrators smashed offices and equipment on two floors and a fire was contained shortly after it started, it said.
"The U.N. understands the anger and outrage of many Lebanese and others after the carnage in Qana earlier today where tens of civilians, including many children, were killed in Israeli raids," the statement said. "However, it is concerned about the destructive acts of a small group of demonstrators."
The statement said U.N. agencies would continue to operate in Lebanon to help the government and the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians affected by the war.
Two AP Television cameramen were slightly injured during the demonstration when they were pushed by some of the protesters. Omar Akour had minor injuries while Mohammed al-Annouti was briefly taken to hospital after he suffered some bruises.
Shouting through loud speakers, two Hezbollah members of parliament urged the demonstrators not to attack the offices. Shortly afterward, dozens of Lebanese soldiers arrived at the scene, cordoned off the building and prevented people from getting close.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri urged demonstrators to stop the riots, saying on local television, "I know you are angry, but I appeal to you to go home. This is not in our interest politically."
Demonstrators chased Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat as he walked from the U.N. building to nearby government offices, but they did not manage to reach him after his body guards stepped in. Rioters using sticks broke the windows of the national police chief's car and an accompanying vehicle.
The gathering began early Sunday with some two dozen people criticizing Arab leaders for what protesters called a neutral stance on the fight between Hezbollah and Israel, which entered its 19th day Sunday.