Lebanon's Fighting Spreads to Druze Heartland
Edited by: Kandy Ringer
Opposition continues military takeover, enforces siege
|Saad Hariri's Future Movement headquarters in west Beirut was attacked by Shia fighters early on Friday morning.
Image Courtesy: � Hugh Macleod/IRIN
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BBSNews 2008-05-12 -- BEIRUT (IRIN) Lebanon's worst sectarian violence since its 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.
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 kilometers 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 realize 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 business.