Violence flares in Lebanon

41_1.jpgThe Lebanese army has said that it is revoking measures taken by the government against Hezbollah, the Shia opposition group, and asked all armed fighters to withdraw from the streets of Beirut.The announcement came after a televised speech by Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, and against a backdrop of escalating violence beyond the capital.

 

In a statement on Saturday, the army also said that the airport security chief fired by the government for his links to Hezbollah will be reinstated.

 

The statement said the issue of Hezbollah’s communications network will be handled by the army’s Signal Corps.

 

The network was previously deemed “illegal” by the governing coalition.

 

Hezbollah responded to the army’s move by announcing that its fighters will be removed from the streets of Beirut.

 

The army’s decision came as reports from northern Lebanon spoke of the deaths of at least 14 people in clashes.

Dozens of people have been killed since Wednesday in the worst clashes in Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war.

According to a Lebanese security official, fighting in the town of Halba in the Akkar region pitted a party allied with the Hezbollah-led opposition against members of the governing March 14 coalition.

 

“The headquarters of the Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) in Halba fell to the Future Movement forces,” the official said, referring to the party of Saad Hariri, the leader of the March 14 camp and son of Rafiq al-Hariri, the assassinated former Lebanese prime minister.

 

The official said that seven people were found dead inside.

 

Siniora’s message

 

Earlier on Saturday, Siniora, speaking from the parliament palace in his first public response to opposition fighters’ takeover of west Beirut, appealed to the army to impose security throughout the country.

 

He called on the military to remove armed men from the streets and restore law and order, even as he accused Hezbollah of carrying out an “armed coup” against Lebanon.

 

Siniora said the Lebanese government could no longer accept Hezbollah freely holding on to its arms and said its takeover of west Beirut was a “poisonous sting”.

 

He said the government would not bow to force but would seek “dialogue through government institutions – not outside this, or through violence”.

 

However, he said the “status quo” was “no longer acceptable”.

 

Siniora also called on all Lebanese people to observe a minute’s silence on Sunday to commemorate those killed in the clashes over the last four days.

 

The governing coalition on Friday described the takeover of west Beirut by opposition fighters as an attempt to bring Syria back into the country and serve Iran’s interests.

 

‘No status quo’

 

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Beirut, said: “Siniora made an appeal when he said that the status quo that Hezbollah has enjoyed so far is not acceptable any more.

 

“These are very uncompromising words.

 

“These words Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, is not going to be happy to hear because he had already made it clear that no one is to target the Hezbollah weapons, that is an issue outside discussions.”

 

Amin noted that Siniora described Beirut’s condition as “occupied” and “besieged” – strong words that would appeal not only to Lebanese inside and outside the country but also to the mostly Sunni population in the Arab world.

“He is trying to indicate that Shias were occupying the Sunni capital. What he is trying to do is trying to win the public relations campaign. He wants to put more pressure on Hezbollah,” she said.

Commenting on Siniora’s speech, Hisham Jaber, a former Lebanese army general, told Al Jazeera: “For Hezbollah to give the government its weapons is a joke – the opposition does not trust this government.”

Jaber said: “The army would risk being divided and they are not prepared to defend any government. The army is not supposed to protect the government”.

 

Funeral attacked

 

Siniora’s speech came shortly after at least six people were reported to have been killed when unidentified armed men opened fire on a funeral procession for a pro-government supporter in Beirut on Saturday.

 

The attack took place after people had ventured out in small numbers to streets, occupied by both Lebanese troops and groups of opposition armed men.

 

Witnesses in the area said a car drove close by and opened fire on about 200 mourners at Tarik Jadideh cemetery near an area controlled by opposition forces.

 

On the diplomatic front, Arab foreign ministers is to hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the political crisis, the Cairo-based Arab League has said.

 

Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of which back Lebanon’s government, had called for an Arab foreign ministers’ meeting.

 

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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