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LEBANON: Opposition continues military takeover, enforces siege

Retrieved from IRIN on May 21, 2008

 BEIRUT, 11 May 2008 (IRIN) - Lebanon's worst sectarian violence since its 15-year civil war ended in

 1990 has spread from Beirut to the Druze heartlands of Mount Lebanon and on to the second city of

 Tripoli in the north as Hezbollah and its opposition allies continued their military takeover of the country.


 Druze leader Waleed Jumblatt, who for many years has controlled the mountain areas southeast

 of Beirut, ordered his fighters to stand down and requested his rival Hezbollah-allied Druze leader Talal

 Arsalan to hand the area over to the army.


 "I tell my supporters that civil peace, coexistence and stopping war and destruction are more important

 than any other consideration," Jumblatt told local TV station LBC.


 Eye-witnesses in Aley, the Druze-majority town at the heart of the clashes, said Shia Hezbollah fighters

 patrolled the streets, firing into the air, following fierce clashes with Jumblatt's Progressive Social Party 

 (PSP) militants.


 Mountain conflict


 The mountain conflict began late 9 May after Hezbollah and its opposition allies' took over Sunni-majority

 west Beirut. According to witnesses, Hezbollah militants operating in Mount Lebanon set up checkpoints

 between the villages of Qmatiye and Souk el-Gharb, two kilometres southwest of Aley.

 Confronted by PSP fighters, Hezbollah kidnapped four of the Druze, killing one, according to residents of

 Aley. In revenge, PSP members kidnapped and executed three Hezbollah supporters.


 "Mount Lebanon has nothing to do with the problems in Beirut," said Rami Shamseddine, a resident of

 Aley. "We've been through lots of wars here and have learned our lesson. We just want peace."


 In Tripoli, supporters of Sunni parliamentary leader Saad Hariri, whose fighters in west Beirut were

 routed on 8 May, burned Hezbollah offices, triggering running gun battles between rival Sunni militants.

 At least 7,000 residents fled their homes and several civilians were wounded, though an uneasy calm

 held by the afternoon.


 39 dead, dozens injured


 At least 39 people have been killed and dozens wounded in four days of fighting between supporters of

 the Western-backed government, now facing collapse, and the Hezbollah-led Iranian and Syrian-backed

 opposition, triggered after the government ordered a crackdown on Hezbollah's military infrastructure.


 The crisis deepened on 10 May after Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, vowed to confront Hezbollah over the

 issue of its arms, an issue Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said would be tantamount to a “declaration

 of war”.


 "Hezbollah today has a problem with all of Lebanon, not just the government," said Siniora. "We never

 suspected Hezbollah was capable of occupying Beirut militarily… Hezbollah must realise the force of arms

 cannot intimidate us."


 The US and Israel have warned that the Hezbollah takeover of Beirut could trigger regional conflict, while

 Britain, Italy and France have readied evacuation plans for their nationals.


 Turkey and Kuwait have already begun evacuating their citizens through Lebanon's northern border with

 Syria, the only open route out of the country. The road to Lebanon's airport has been blocked since 7

 May by Hezbollah supporters. Other land routes are cut off, and the Beirut port is also shut.


 Despite the siege, food supplies in Beirut remain good, with many grocers in the capital open for