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    Hezbollah seize control some parts of Beirut, 11 killed

    Hurriyet English with wires
    09.05.2008 - 10:38 | Son Güncelleme:

    Hezbollah gunmen took control of large areas of Beirut on Friday in a third day of fighting between the pro-Iranian Shi’ite groups and fighters loyal to the U.S.-backed governing coalition. Security officials said 11 people died in street battles.

    Several Sunni neighborhoods in west Beirut considered bastions of Lebanon’s ruling bloc have fallen under the control of rival Hezbollah-led militants, witnesses and AFP correspondents said on Friday.

    In a sign of the collapse of the pro-government forces in the face of the onslaught by the Shi’ite Hezbollah and Amal groups in the Lebanese capital’s Muslim sector, the TV station of top Sunni politician Saad Hariri's Future Movement was forced off the air.

    News agencies reported security sources said at least 11 people had been killed and 20 wounded. The thud of exploding grenades and crackle of automatic gunfire echoed across the city in the worst internal strife since the 1975-90 civil war, in which 150,000 were killed and parts of the city wrecked as it was carved into warring sectarian enclaves.

    In scenes reminiscent of the darkest days of the civil war, young men armed with assault rifles roamed the streets amid smashed cars and smoldering buildings. The gunmen handed over several seized posts, including the Hariri media outlets and homes of some of his deputies and ministers, to the army without clashes.

    On Thursday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused Lebanon’s Western-backed government of declaring war on his Shi’ite militant group. Majority leader Saad Hariri went on television later urging Hezbollah to pull its fighters back and "save Lebanon from hell."

    "Those who try to arrest us, we will arrest them. Those who shoot at us, we will shoot at them," Nasrallah said in a news conference via video link from his hiding place.

    Later, Hariri made a televised appeal to Nasrallah seeking to calm the conflict. "My appeal to you and to myself as well, the appeal of all Lebanon, is to stop the slide toward civil war, to stop the language of arms and lawlessness," said Hariri, son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005.

    Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has taken action on Thursday to put an end to the recent political tension in Lebanon. Erdogan held telephone conversations with Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Nebih Berri, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Syrian Prime Minister Bashar al-Assad, and called on all parties to restrain and compromise.

    Hezbollah and its allies have led a political campaign for almost 18 months against Siniora's anti-Syrian cabinet.

    Tension between the government and Hezbollah rose sharply on Tuesday when the cabinet said the group's communications network was "an attack on the sovereignty of the state." Hezbollah said it was part of its security apparatus and had played an important role in its war with Israel in 2006.

    Hezbollah has deemed Siniora's cabinet illegitimate since its Shi’ite ministers resigned in 2006 after he rejected demands for veto power against government decisions. The crisis has paralyzed much of the government and left Lebanon without a president for five months.

    The group 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.

     

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