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Thread: Hezbollah Seizes Much Of Beirut, Lebanon Gov't Denounces Coup

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    Hezbollah Seizes Much Of Beirut, Lebanon Gov't Denounces Coup

    Hezbollah seizes much of Beirut

    Associated Press
    Published: Friday May 9, 2008

    BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Hezbollah gunmen seized control of several Beirut neighborhoods from Sunni foes loyal to the U.S.-backed government on Friday as sectarian clashes reminiscent of Lebanon's bloody 15-year civil war raged in the capital.

    At least 11 people have been killed and more than 20 wounded in three days of street battles and gunfights, security officials said.

    About 100 Shiite Hezbollah militants wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying assault rifles marched down Hamra Street, a normally vibrant commercial strip in a mainly Sunni area of Beirut. They took up positions in corners and sidewalks and stopped the few cars braving the empty streets to search their trunks.

    On nearby streets, dozens of fighters from another Hezbollah-allied party appeared, some wearing masks and carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

    In another sign that the Hezbollah-led opposition was gaining steam, the satellite TV station affiliated with the party of Lebanon's top Sunni lawmaker, Saad Hariri, was forced off the air Friday. Gunmen also set the offices of the party's newspaper, Al-Mustaqbal, on fire in the coastal neighborhood of Ramlet el-Bayda.

    Lebanon's army, which has stayed out of the sectarian political squabbling that has paralyzed the country for more than a year, only intervened after the building was set ablaze. Troops provided cover for firefighters, who eventually extinguished the flames.

    The army also evacuated employees from the TV station, but only after gunmen massed near it and threatened to destroy it, said Nadim Mounla, the station's chief.

    Meanwhile, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the fence of Hariri's heavily protected residence, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the media.

    Hariri and his ally, Druse lawmaker Walid Jumblatt, were besieged in their homes, and Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and several ministers were holed up in Saniora's downtown office surrounded by troops and police.

    The escalating fighting could have implications for the entire Middle East at a time when Sunni-Shiite tensions are high. The tensions are fueled in part by the rivalry between predominantly Shiite Iran, which sponsors Hezbollah, and Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

    The crackle of gunfire and occasional explosions continued to reverberate across the western, largely Muslim, sector of Beirut Friday.

    On Hamra Street and in other neighborhoods once dominated by government supporters, Shiite gunmen roamed unopposed. Dozens of cars and shops had been damaged by the fighting.

    "We entered Karakol Druse. There is no Jumblatt and no Hariri here," a Shiite gunman told Associated Press Television News.

    "We entered the neighborhood. They threw away their weapons and ran," said another gunman as one of his colleagues tore down a poster of Hariri.

    The scenes were a grim reminder of Lebanon's devastating 1975-90 civil war in which 150,000 were killed and parts of the city wrecked as it was carved into warring sectarian enclaves.

    Street clashes exploded into gunbattles in parts of Beirut on Thursday afternoon after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused Lebanon's Western-backed government of declaring war on his Shiite militant group. It was the militant leader's strongest comments since Lebanon's political crisis erupted 17 months ago.

    Hariri later went on television urging Hezbollah to pull its fighters back and "save Lebanon from hell." He proposed a compromise that would involve the army, one of the sole national institutions respected by Lebanon's long deadlocked factions.

    But Hezbollah and its allies swiftly rejected the offer.

    Officials with Lebanon's pro-government majority called an emergency of lawmakers in a mountain town in the country's Christian heartland, LBC-TV, a pro-government Christian station reported Friday. But it was unclear who would be able to attend since several lawmakers were holed up in their homes or offices.

    "Even if Hezbollah's militia took everything we remain the constitutional authority," Cabinet Minister Ahmed Fatfat told Al-Arabiya TV from Saniora's compound.

    The unrest has virtually shut down Lebanon's international airport and barricades closed major highways.

    Hezbollah first blocked roads in Beirut on Wednesday to enforce a strike called by labor unions, but confrontations quickly spread and became more violent. Factions threw up roadblocks and checkpoints dividing Beirut into sectarian enclaves, and the chattering of automatic weapons and thumps of rocket-propelled grenades echoed across the city overnight.

    The clashes are the latest turn in a test of wills between the Hezbollah-led opposition and the Saniora government.

    The government, which is allied with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, has only a slim majority in parliament. The two sides have been locked in a power struggle that has kept government at a standstill and the country without a president since November.

    Lebanon govt denounces "coup"

    Tom Perry
    Reuters US Online Report World News
    May 09, 2008

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah group took control of the Muslim half of Beirut on Friday in what the U.S.-backed governing coalition described as "an armed and bloody coup."

    At least 15 people have been killed and 34 wounded in three days of battles between pro-government gunmen and fighters loyal to Hezbollah, a Shi'ite political movement which has a powerful guerrilla army and is an ally of Syria.

    The fighting, the worst internal strife since the 1975-90 civil war, began this week after the government decided to dismantle Hezbollah's military communications network. The group said the government had declared war.

    In scenes reminiscent of the darkest days of the civil war, young men with assault rifles roamed the streets amid smashed cars and smoldering buildings.

    Fighting died down as outgunned government supporters handed over their weapons and offices to the army, which has tried to remain neutral during 17 months of political conflict between the Hezbollah-led opposition and the government.

    The anti-Syria governing coalition condemned the "armed and bloody coup," saying it was aimed at increasing Iran's influence and restoring that of Syria, forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in 2005.

    The White House restated its support for the government and urged Iran and Syria to end their support for Hezbollah, whose followers have already brought large parts of Beirut to a standstill this week with roadblocks.

    "This support is a reflection of our unshakable commitment to the Lebanese people and their hope for democratic change," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. "We will stand by the Lebanese government and peaceful citizens of Lebanon through this crisis and provide the support they need to weather this storm."

    A senior opposition source told Reuters that Hezbollah and its allies would maintain the road blocks, including barricades on routes to the airport, until a full resolution of the crisis.

    "All issues are linked. Beirut will remain shut until there is a political solution," the source said.

    The political crisis has paralyzed the country and left it without a president since November 2007.

    An influential pro-government leader called for dialogue.

    Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze minority, said Hezbollah "regardless of its military strength, cannot annul the other."

    "Dialogue alone brings results. Running away from dialogue is not useful," he told the pro-government LBC television.

    The dead included a woman and her 30-year-old son killed while trying to flee Ras al-Nabae -- a mixed Sunni-Shi'ite Beirut district and scene of some of the heaviest clashes.

    "They were trying to flee to the mountains. Instead ... they reached the hospital, dead," said a relative, who declined to give her name because of security fears.

    "It was terrifying during the night. We couldn't even move about in the house," said another woman, a Ras al-Nabae resident who fled the area at first light with her children. "We spent the night in the corridor."

    Hezbollah had steadily seized the offices of pro-government factions, including the Future group of Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, in the predominantly Muslim western half of the city.

    Backed by gunmen from the Shi'ite Amal group, Hezbollah handed over the offices to the army. Hariri supporters gave up their offices to the army elsewhere in the country.

    Hezbollah also moved into Hariri-owned media outlets, and Hariri's television and radio stations went off the air. Opposition gunmen of the Syrian Socialist National Party set ablaze a building housing studios of Hariri's TV station.

    "It certainly leaves the government weaker and the Future movement weaker," said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

    But Hezbollah does not want to be seen as an "occupier of Beirut," he said, and handing control to the army appeared the most likely exit.

    The European Union, Germany and France urged a peaceful resolution. Syria said the issue was an internal Lebanese affair while Iran blamed the United States and Israel for the violence.

    Hezbollah was the only Lebanese faction allowed to keep its weapons after the civil war to fight Israeli forces occupying the south. Israel withdrew in 2000 and the fate of Hezbollah's weapons is at the heart of the political crisis.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

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    Jan 2005
    The "fuse"...
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

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    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Hezbollah, allies to end armed presence in Beirut

    Reuters US Online Report Top News
    May 10, 2008

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hezbollah and its allies will end their armed presence in Beirut after the Lebanese army overturned government measures against the group, an opposition statement said on Saturday.

    "The Lebanese opposition will end all armed presence in Beirut so that the capital will be in the hands of the army," the statement said.

    The statement, however, said the opposition would maintain a "civil disobedience" campaign until its political demands were met.

    The opposition has blocked roads and shut Beirut's air and sea ports in an escalation of an attempt to achieve more power in government and the passage of a new law for general elections.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

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