Lebanese army vows use of force

Hezbollah-led opposition fighters insist they have the right to defend themselves.

    The army has largely stayed out of the fighting that has gone on for nearly a week across Lebanon [AFP]

    At least 81 people have been reported killed in clashes across the country since violence erupted on May 6.
     
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    An uneasy calm prevailed in Beirut on Monday where the road to the international airport was shut for the sixth straight day and a border crossing into Syria was also blocked.
     
    The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon and his family were among 200 people who managed to reach the nearby island of Cyprus by boat, officials there said.
     
    Hezbollah's stand
     
    Pressure has been mounting on Lebanese leaders to bring an end to the fighting.
     
    The Hezbollah-led opposition has said it will not tolerate any attempts to be disarmed, insisting it has every right to defend itself.
     
    Hezbollah welcomed on Monday an Arab League decision to send a peace mission, but insisted that the delegation must be neutral.
     
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    Fighting divides Mount Lebanon

    "We ask the Arabs not to favour one party over another," Hussein Khalil, Hezbollah's deputy chief, said.
     
    Michel Aoun, a Christian opposition leader allied with Hezbollah, blamed the government for the "explosion" of violence.
     
    "You should ask those whose decision it was to deploy armed men against the demonstrators whose fault this is," he said.
     
    "The government is to blame. They knew this would instigate an explosion."
     
    Fighting first broke out last week after the Lebanese government - which is boycotted by the opposition - ordered the closure of a private phone network owned by Hezbollah.
     
    The government also suspended Beirut airport's head of security over alleged ties to Hezbollah.
     
    After opposition forces took control of west Beirut on Friday, the army said it would not implement the government's decisions, for fear that it could inflame sectarian tensions.
     
    Defiant note
     
    The cabinet of Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, is divided on the revocation of its orders against Hezbollah's communications network.
     
    Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces party and a senior pro-government politician, struck a defiant note in a speech on Monday.
     
    "We will persevere," he said. "Hezbollah has made no political gains.
     
    "They will not make the government resign, they will not revoke cabinet decisions until normalcy is restored."
     

    For 18 months, the Siniora government has resisted opposition demands to increase its share of posts in the cabinet to give it veto rights, although Hezbollah has now shown it has the military muscle to veto decisions it dislikes.

     

    Arab League mission
     
    Lebanese officials said they expected a Qatari-led Arab mission, formed at an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Sunday, to arrive in Beirut on Wednesday.

    Opposition fighters took control of the Druze
    stronghold of Mount Lebanon on Sunday [AFP]

    The mediators will try to quell the violence and tackle the political crisis by securing the election of General Michel Suleiman, commander of the army, as president.
     
    Both sides of the Lebanese political divide had agreed on Suleiman as president, but could not strike a deal over a new government and a law for next year's parliamentary election.
     
    Meanwhile, Lebanon's parliament postponed on Monday a vote on a new president for the 19th time, delaying the session to June 10 from Tuesday.
     
    Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros said: "It seems a deal to end this crisis may be within reach, but it will need the backing of international and regional powers first."
     
    Dialogue urged
     
    Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, condemned on Monday those behind the surge of violence and called on all parties to resume talks to find a way out of the crisis.
     
    And George Bush, the US president, accused Tehran of "funding Hezbollah".
     
    "Their funding of Hezbollah - look what's happening in Lebanon now, a young democracy trying to survive," he told Israel's Channel 10 television.
     
    For her part, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, described the situation in Lebanon as "very fragile" before taking part in a conference call on the crisis with officials from Arab and European countries and the UN.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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