Out of control in east Belfast: The gangs bringing havoc to Northern Ireland
Neighbourhoods blighted by fights arranged online
A huge police presence has enveloped east Belfast after several nights of serious rioting close to a notorious interface.
Over the past week, up to 100 young people – some aged as young as 13 – have been involved in fierce clashes.
Additional police were deployed in the east of the city once more last night in an effort to quell tensions after officers were pelted with petrol bombs and bottles less than 24 hours earlier.
The homes of frightened residents caught in the middle of the disorder have also been targeted.
There have been pitched battles between rival groups in the vicinity of the nationalist enclave of the Short Strand, with much of the violence said to have been pre-arranged on social media.
However, the most recent trouble involved sustained attacks on police officers by loyalist gangs.
Loyalist community representatives met on Tuesday evening to discuss the powderkeg situation, with further discussions between political representatives and the police due to take place in the coming days.
Asked about the potential involvement of the UVF, police superintendent Darrin Jones, replied: "At this stage, we don't know.
"We will look at that. At this stage, what we're faced with is up to 100 youths and others coming together with the common purpose to attack police and to cause wanton violence."
John Kyle, a PUP councillor in the area, blamed "recreational rioting" for the shameful scenes.
He said there had been trouble over the past year and called for parents to ensure their children were kept off the streets late at night.
"This has been going on for some time and has escalated in recent nights," he said.
"It is recreational rioting involving gangs with residents caught in the middle. It's a social problem. It has to end."
Mr Kyle added he had seen no evidence of UVF involvement in the trouble.
Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile said fights were being planned on Facebook, with those involved subsequently boasting of their involvement to one another on the popular site.
He said he was concerned paramilitary factions could hijack the situation if it wasn't resolved.
"Because it is happening at an interface, it is being presented as something else," he said. "The last couple of nights there seems to have been a different edge to it – we have seen older men appearing on the loyalist side.
"I've tried to talk to parents and explain to them young people are in danger – physical danger – and in danger of arrest and being sent through the criminal justice system. We need to collectively nip it in the bud."
East Belfast DUP MLA Robin Newton said he was at a loss to explain why the violence had broken out in recent nights.
"East Belfast is a very vibrant area, this is not a reflection and indeed detracts from anyone who wants to invest and create jobs here," he said.
"I think someone needs to step up to the plate and explain what is going on. I see no reason for it and no one has explained it to me."
A senior police officer said the PSNI would be pursuing those involved in the recent trouble.
East Belfast Area Commander Chief Inspector David Moore added: "Additional police resources have been deployed in the area in order to increase visibility and to act as a deterrent to individuals who may be considering orchestrating any attack.
"This police presence has also sought, where possible, to identify people involved, and where there is evidence of an offence, we will take action to bring those offenders before the courts.
"Parents are reminded to ensure that they know the whereabouts of their children as anyone that is caught engaging in disorder or criminal damage is likely to end up with a criminal record."