Shots fired at St Matthew’s
Shots fired at St Matthew’s

Shots have been fired by loyalists tonight towards St Matthew’s chapel amid a serious assault by unionist paramilitaries on the nationalist Short Strand.

Dozens of petrol bombs have also been thrown and several homes have sustained fire damage, while at least one PSNI police landrover was also engulfed in flames.

Buckets of water and sand have been used to quell the flames, which are now reported to be extinguished. However, scores of residents, particularly pensioners, have been forced to flee their bungalow homes.

Republicans from other areas have successfully made their way to the area to assist in the defence, and a large crowd is now present, and fighting has become sporadic. However, there are still concerns that the rioting, the worst seen in east Belfast for several years, could intensify and spread.

The immediate motivation behind the assault on the Short Strand, involving by up to 200 masked paramilitaries on three fronts, remains unclear. Loyalists dressed in military fatigues were seen nearby earlier today, engaged in training exercises in apparent preparation for tonight’s highly organised attack, some wearing surgical gloves and carrying weapons.

Earlier tonight, continuous fireworks and a number of blast bombs exploded in the area, while up to 12 shots were heard. Both gunshots and petrol bombs were directed by loyalists towards St Matthew’s Chapel, where republicans struggling to defend the church clashed briefly with the PSNI.

There were also simultaneous attacks by loyalists on Catholic homes in two other interface areas of Belfast.

One loyalist is said to have received a gunshot wound to his own foot, while a number of nationalists have been hospitalised, with one man said to be in serious condition.

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© 2011 Irish Republican News