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Lebanese citizens marching against Hezbollah in Beirut on Saturday. (AP)
Last update - 23:36 10/05/2008
Hezbollah fighters retreat from Beirut after 37 die in clashes
By Yoav Stern and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondents and Agencies
Tags: Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syria 

Hezbollah TV announced Saturday evening that Hezbollah-led opposition forces would withdraw all their gunmen from Beirut in compliance with the Lebanese army's request.

According to an opposition statement, the move comes after the army issued a statement calling on gunmen to get off the street and reopen the roads.

But the statement said a civil disobedience campaign will continue until the group's demands are met.

The announcement came after the Lebanese army overturned government measures against the group, which sparked clashes in and around Beirut that left dozens dead after four days of fighting.

Hezbollah moved Thursday to seize the Sunni neighborhoods of Beirut after its leader Hassan Nasrallah accused the U.S.-backed government of declaring war on his group when it declared the organization's communications network illegal and ordered the removal of the airport security chief for alleged ties to the militants.

On Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the decision on the communications issue would be dealt with by the army, which promptly overturned the two anti-Hezbollah measures.

While Siniora in effect backed away from the government decisions to curb the militant group's power, he also toughened his rhetoric against Hezbollah, which he accused of staging a coup.

Death toll reaches 37 in four days of Lebanon clashes

In the latest incident of violence in Lebanon, at least 12 gunmen were killed and 20 wounded in a gunbattle between pro- and anti-government groups in a remote region of northern Lebanon.

Saturday's gunbattle occurred in the town of Halba in Akkar, a remote Sunni region in northernmost Lebanon when fighters loyal to Sunni leader Sa'ad Hariri and the government clashed with members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a secular pro-Syrian group allied with the Shiite Hezbollah.

The pro-government fighters stormed the office of the SSNP and set it ablaze after the gunbattle.

The number raises to 37 the death toll since Shi'ite-Sunni sectarian erupted in Beirut on Wednesday and spread to other regions.

Earlier Saturday, a Shi'ite shopowner opened fire on a funeral procession Saturday in a Sunni neighborhood of Beirut, killing two and wounding six, a day after Shi'ite gunmen swept through the Lebanese capital's Muslim sector, police and witnesses said.

The shooting in the neighborhood of Tarik Jadideh underlined the state of lawlessness and the sharpened sectarian tensions that have engulfed the Lebanese capital's Muslim sector since Sunni-Shi'ite fighting erupted on Wednesday resulting in Hezbollah's takeover of neighborhoods from Sunnis loyal to the U.S.-backed government.

By Saturday afternoon, the army had replaced Hezbollah in most of the Muslim neighborhoods seized by the militant group.

Tarik Jadideh was a stronghold of Sunni supporters of majority coalition leader Sa'ad Hariri. Shi'ite gunmen did not enter that neighborhood, where Lebanese troops deployed to prevent an onslaught by Hezbollah.

Elsewhere in the capital Saturday, Beirutis cautiously ventured out in small numbers to streets held by both Lebanese troops and lingering bands of Shi'ite gunmen.

Also on Saturday, at least 212 Jordanians, mostly students, were evacuated from Lebanon in coordination between the Foreign Ministry and the Jordanian embassy in Beirut, according to an official statement.

The Jordanian citizens, who arrived aboard four buses, decided to leave Lebanon "in the light of the deterioration of the security situation there," the Foreign Ministry said.

Beirut had a quiet night Friday after the worst sectarian violence since the end of 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. But the violence moved outside the capital, leaving 20 more people dead in addition to the 17 killed in Beirut.

People ventured out to check on their shops, cars and to stock up on food after days of being trapped inside by the fighting.

The Christian sector of Beirut was peaceful and was not involved in the violence.

The army, which had stayed on the sidelines until moving into Beirut neighborhoods on Saturday, brought in more armor and troops to seal off neighborhoods where top pro-government leaders - Hariri of the Sunnis and Walid Jumblatt of the Druze - were holed up in their residences.

Violence also erupted in the mountain town of Aley east of Beirut. Eight people were killed there on Friday night. Another civilian died in the clashes in the southern city of Sidon.

Hezbollah's power was demonstrated dramatically Friday morning when it forced off the air the TV station affiliated with Hariri's party. Gunmen also set the offices of the party's newspaper, Al-Mustaqbal, on fire in the coastal neighborhood of Ramlet el-Bayda. Shi'ite gunmen from Hezbollah and Amal, and allied group, roamed unopposed through the deserted streets of neighborhoods once dominated by supporters of Hariri and the government.

Lebanon's army only intervened after the building was set ablaze. Troops provided cover for firefighters, who eventually extinguished the flames.

The army also evacuated employees from the TV station, but only after gunmen massed near it and threatened to destroy it, said Nadim Mounla, the station's chief.

With Hariri and Jumblatt besieged in their residences in Muslim western Beirut, officials of the pro-government majority called an emergency meeting of legislators in a mountain town in the Christian heartland northeast of Beirut, said LBC TV, a pro-government Christian station.

Lebanese political commentators have branded the violence an attempted military coup.

The army has largely avoided getting involved in the street battles, preferring to remain above the political fray for fear of being dragged into the conflict. The institution could break up on sectarian lines if it takes on Hezbollah's powerful militia or any major party.

Dozens of fighters from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a Hezbollah ally, also appeared in the streets off Hamra, some masked and carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Shops in the normally bustling commercial district closed save for a few pharmacies and grocery stores.

The unrest virtually shut down Lebanon's international airport for a third day and barricades closed major highways. Hezbollah first blocked roads in Beirut on Wednesday to enforce a strike called by labor unions, but confrontations quickly spread across the city.

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.

The clashes are the latest turn in a test of wills between the Hezbollah-led opposition and the government of Siniora. The U.S.-backed government has only a slim majority in parliament, and the two sides have been locked in a 17-month power struggle that has kept government at a standstill.

The fight could have implications for the entire Middle East at a time when Sunni-Shi'ite tensions are high. The tensions are fueled in part by the rivalry between predominantly Shiite Iran, which sponsors Hezbollah, and Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

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      1.   what are these monkeys up to now??? 10:49  |  fadi 08/05/08
      2.   Get a clue Lebanese 11:12  |  Michael 08/05/08
      3.   hizbullah -the tool of evil iran 11:43  |  don 08/05/08
      4.   Hezbollah fighting to save Lebanon from Western Takeover 11:44  |  Lev Bronstein 08/05/08
      5.   the catastrophe of the ME 11:49  |  Sarah 08/05/08
      6.   Indrayaya where are you 11:52  |  Harry 08/05/08
      7.   Tel7as ayri 11:53  |  Abou il Mich 08/05/08
      8.   This is an open revolt 12:03  |  Yonatan 08/05/08
      9.   Iran is Prevailing. US Loosing in the Middle East 12:18  |  MiddleStanian 08/05/08
      10.   Hizbullah is occupying Lebanon 12:19  |  Allon 08/05/08
      11.   "BRONSTEIN" .No Israelis in Lebanon your catch all excuse mantra 12:35  |  PETER SM 08/05/08
      12.   Hezbollah 12:44  |  Yosemite 08/05/08
      13.   #11 - Isarel did not leave Peter, they were defeated and fled 13:25  |  Lev Bronstein 08/05/08
      14.   Hezbolla~RockinRolla 13:49  |  JO 08/05/08
      15.   Get a clue Michael #2 13:52  |  northern neighbor 08/05/08
      16.   Lev Bronstein=Trotsky....interesting? 13:55  |  Irankhez 08/05/08
      17.   If u want peace... 13:55  |  JO 08/05/08
      18.   Sunday brunch and videos 14:01  |  allang 08/05/08
      19.   Israel would benefit If Hizbollah controlled Lebanon 14:05  |  Natallie Durson 08/05/08
      20.   As an Aljazeera reporter, I love this stuff, this keeps my job 14:09  |  POP 08/05/08
      21.   Just leave them alone. Hezbollah celebrates Israel`s 60th birthda 14:23  |  Genuine Tosefta 08/05/08
      22.   The situation continues to deteriorate 14:33  |  Mark Lincoln 08/05/08
      23.   northern neighbour, nothing to add to your one eyed 14:35  |  Karl 08/05/08
      24.   "BRONSTEIN" NASRALLAH admitted he learnt his lesson 14:39  |  PETER SM 08/05/08
      25.   northern neighbor, do you live in a vacuum? 14:56  |  Michael 08/05/08
      26.   Hey Natallie...#19 15:09  |  DR 08/05/08
      27.   Hezbollah revolt in Lebanon, Durson attacks Israel 15:32  |  Joe Sittizen 08/05/08
      28.   Who Cares???.... 15:36  |  WYSIWYG 08/05/08
      29.   Celebrate Israel, destroy Hizbollah 15:47  |  amiratlanta 08/05/08
      30.   hizbullah 15:47  |  Joseph (Lebanese) 08/05/08
      31.   If that`s your attitude Tel7as ayri, fine. 15:57  |  Michael 08/05/08
      32.   Nattalie Duhs on 15:58  |  Michael 08/05/08
      33.   zionist entity.. 16:02  |  Imad 08/05/08
      34.   OOOPS NAT, 16:07  |  truly yours 08/05/08
      35.   get a clue#15 16:10  |  truly yours 08/05/08
      36.   #4 Lev, sounds like KGB to me 16:25  |  John Allen 08/05/08
      37.   #13 Lev. It`s interesting to hear you coments 16:33  |  John Allen 08/05/08
      38.   #4: Lev Bronstein WAS THE ORIGINAL NAME of TROTSKIY. Are you his 16:48  |  Vittorio 08/05/08
      39.   RULES OF THE GAMES CHANGED 16:58  |  Mike 08/05/08
      40.   Telecommunications network used to snoop on Lebanon citizens 17:00  |  Gili 08/05/08
      41.   Just let them have it - they all love hezbollah 17:03  |  Johnny 08/05/08
      42.   #4 Lev Trotsky 17:05  |  Jabotinsky 08/05/08
      43.   #19 Oh really suck 17:09  |  Dan 08/05/08
      44.   will it ever end 17:11  |  Alex 08/05/08
      45.   Mark and Humiliation 17:11  |  Tex 08/05/08
      46.   Hopefully Lebanon Will Destroy Them! 17:13  |  Bill Foonman 08/05/08
      47.   Right to defend themselves 17:16  |  Aaron 08/05/08
      48.   THAT IS NOT TRUE 17:17  |  BAD TRANSLATION 08/05/08
      49.   Lebanon FINALLY kicks HEZBullies in the teeth...about time 17:19  |  dav zee 08/05/08
      50.   Libanon is in danger for a long time... 17:23  |  georges 08/05/08
      51.   Hezb`Allah is a criminal act of aggression against Lebanon. 17:28  |  petra 08/05/08
      52.   The Lebalestinians ar doomed! 17:32  |  A Life 08/05/08
      53.   Durson - a hyporcritical pro-occupaitionist 17:32  |  Ariel 08/05/08
      54.   "Resistance"? 17:33  |  Analyst 08/05/08
      55.   another Nasrallah promise up in smoke 17:34  |  mb 08/05/08
      56.   threats threats threats from an ego-maniac (pig`s ass.) 17:36  |  jewish doctor 08/05/08
      57.   Lev Burnsteen where do you all the nonsense 17:36  |  Simon 08/05/08
      58.   Hezbollah: Hated by Lebanese! 17:37  |  Civilized World 08/05/08
      59.   Sleeping with the enemy 17:40  |  Anette 08/05/08
      60.   @northern neighbor 17:43  |  Innocent bystander 08/05/08
      61.   @ALL LEBANESE!!! 17:45  |  LAST WARNING!!! 08/05/08
      62.   Hezballahstan 17:52  |  herb glatter 08/05/08
      63.   LBronstein - Comrade Stalin was right - you sre crazy 17:55  |  Kamenev 08/05/08
      64.   Nasrallah & Lebanon 18:00  |  Harley 08/05/08
      65.   This is the result of bedding with scorpions! 18:14  |  Pervert 08/05/08
      66.   Just saw the hezbollah intreview - Civil war imminent 18:15  |  Johnny 08/05/08
      67.   Lebanon should have eradicated hezballah 18:16  |  DR