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Middle East
Fighting spreads in Lebanon
Government and opposition supporters clash in a Druze stronghold near Beirut and in the northern city of Tripoli.
Last Modified: 12 May 2008 15:51 GMT
An opposition fighter holds his position during clashes  in Shwayfat, southeast of Beirut, on Sunday [AFP]
Heavy fighting has broken out between pro-government and opposition supporters in Lebanon's central mountains overlooking the capital, Beirut.
 
Machinegun fire and loud explosions rocked several villages, including Aaytat and Baysur, in the district of Aley on Sunday.
 
Intense fighting was also reported in the Shwayfat neighbourhood.
Walid Jumblatt, a prominent pro-government politician and a leader of Lebanon's Druze community, urged Talal Arslan, a Druze rival allied with the Hezbollah-led opposition, to place the affected regions under army rule.
Coexistence at risk
 
Jumblatt said "things [had] deteriorated in the area af Aley in such a way that is threatening the coexistence with our Shia brothers".

"I agreed with [Nabih] Berri [the parliamentary speaker] to entrust Talal Arslan with seeking to put an end to all the fighting," he said.
 
"I say to my supporters that civil peace, coexistence and ending the destruction [must] prevail over all the other considerations."
 
Jumblatt's statement came as the number of dead and wounded continued to rise.
 
"From the day the unrest started, 42 people have been killed and 164 wounded across the country," a Lebanese security official said.
 
Arab League foreign ministers meanwhile held emergency talks in Cairo on the Lebanon crisis - in the absence of Syria's foreign minister.
 
Governments led by Egypt put forward a draft resolution implicitly condemning Hezbollah for the violence but it elicited opposition from some delegations, delegates said.
 
In Beirut, Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, and some of his ministers and staff observed a moment of silence at the government building in honour of those killed in violence.
 
Power shift
 
Opposition fighters seized much of the city on Friday after battles with government supporters.
 
But Beirut is now coming under the control of the army after opposition forces were ordered to stand down by their commanders.
 
However, the opposition says it reserves the right to lead a campaign of civil disobedience until its political demands are met.
 
Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said Sunday's fighting can be considered "round two" of the conflict.
 
"This is a significant move. Walid Jumblatt was, through history, a prominent leader in the mountainous areas of Lebanon," Amin said.

"He fought in the civil war and his fighters have a reputation for their viciousness.

"Now he is asking the opposition to quell the violence, as they seem to be in control of the area."

Tripoli battles

Earlier on Sunday the army moved into the main northern city of Tripoli, where fierce clashes left one woman dead and at least five people wounded overnight.

The fighting, which continued throughout the night, came hours after Lebanese opposition forces started to withdraw from the streets of Beirut.

An Al Jazeera correspondent reported on Sunday that all groups involved in the Tripoli clashes had agreed on a truce to allow the evacuation of injured people.

An army officer said government supporters fought loyalists of an Alawite sect with links to Hezbollah in the Bab al-Tebbaneh, Kobel and Jabal Mohsen neighbourhoods.
 
"One woman has died in her house near Bab al-Tebbaneh, and about 7,000 people had fled the fighting," the officer said.
 
Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tripoli, said some members of the Alawite community told her that government supporters had started the fighting, although the claim could not be independently verified.
 
"According to the Alawites, the aim [of the government supporters] is clearly to show their power in Tripoli because they were clearly defeated in Beirut [by the opposition in recent days]."
 
Challenge of neutrality
 
Khodr said the army faced a challenge in remaining neutral for the benefit of all Lebanese people.
 
"The army is in a very difficult position - if it does attack one party the army may split along sectarian lines," Khodr said.
 
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The current fighting erupted after the government said last week that it would take action against Hezbollah's communications network
 
The government also suspended Brigadier-General Wafiq Shqeir, the head of security at Beirut airport, citing his alleged sympathies to Hezbollah.
 
But Hezbollah said any action against its phone network, which played a crucial role in the group's 34-day war with Israel in 2006, was tantamount to declaring war.

It also called for the airport chief to be reinstated.

Army's intervention
 
After Friday's fierce fighting in Beirut, an army statement the next day said Shqeir would remain in his post "pending an investigation".
 
"As for the telecommunications network, the army will look into the issue in a manner that is not harmful to the public interest or the security of the resistance", the army said, referring to Hezbollah.
 
The military's action followed a televised address by Siniora in which he accused Hezbollah of staging a coup, calling the group's takeover a "poisonous sting" to democracy.

In his speech on Saturday - his first public reaction to Hezbollah's takeover of west Beirut - Siniora said Hezbollah's weapons could no longer be considered legitimate as they had been turned on Lebanese citizens.
 
"Hezbollah must realise that force of arms will not scare us or make us retreat," he said.
Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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