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Hezbollah-led forces take revolt to mountains above Beirut

  • Story Highlights
  • Pro-government Druze leader says fighting Hezbollah "useless," offers truce
  • Residents in Beirut say they hear explosions in nearby mountains
  • Government says it retook Beirut; some residents say Hezbollah still there
  • Fighting marks worst sectarian violence since end of country's civil war in 1991
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From Brent Sadler
CNN
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- The Hezbollah-led revolt to topple Lebanon's U.S.-backed government triggered new fighting Monday in the northern port city of Tripoli.

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Soldiers were deployed in northern Tripoli on Sunday after fierce battles in Lebanon's second-largest city.

Earlier fighting in Tripoli stopped Sunday morning. But it broke out again Monday after Lebanese troops pulled out from the area.

Lebanese security officials say heavy fighting erupted for a second time in the northern city of Tripoli.

Officials say heavy machine gun fire and rockets are being used in battles between government supporters and opponents. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations, The Associated Press reported.

The mountain war erupted Sunday as pro- and anti-government forces clashed in Tripoli.

Meanwhile, Lebanese army troops sought to secure Beirut's tense neighborhoods after days of deadly violence between rival Sunni and Shiite Muslim gunmen.

At least 44 people were killed and more than 140 wounded since the fighting broke out Thursday, Lebanon's Internal Security Forces said Sunday. The figure does not include casualties from Sunday's battles. Video Watch how a compromise could end the fighting »

The initial clashes were concentrated in Beirut, and spread to other areas of Lebanon. It was the worst sectarian violence since the end of the country's civil war in 1991.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the group rejected the gunmen's actions, and he offered "logistic support" to the Lebanese army.

He said a delegation from the Arab League -- made up of Arab foreign ministers -- would visit Lebanon in hopes of negotiating an agreement between Lebanon's government and Hezbollah's Shiite movement.

Lebanon's military said it has reclaimed control of Beirut, but residents in some Sunni neighborhoods said Sunday that they were still being intimidated by Hezbollah gunmen who had neither disarmed nor withdrawn. They said the Hezbollah gunmen are still preventing people from traveling to certain parts of the capital. Video Watch how the fighting has shifted »

People in Beirut could hear explosions from the fighting in nearby mountain villages in the Mount Lebanon area, the stronghold of pro-government Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

Anti-government forces bombarded Jumblatt's area with artillery while ground forces attacked Druze positions using rockets and machine guns, according to Western military observers. The fighting set off renewed panic among city and mountain dwellers as columns of smoke rose from Druze communities.

"What is happening now in Mount Lebanon is a threat for civil peace," Jumblatt told Lebanon Broadcasting Corp. Photo See how the violence has spread »

The battles prompted Jumblatt, a key government supporter, to back down in the face of what his supporters called an onslaught from the anti-government forces.

"It's useless to fight," he said.

Jumblatt authorized his Druze rival, Talal Arslan -- who is allied with the Hezbollah-led opposition -- to effectively negotiate a truce in the region.

"My peers in the opposition have agreed that the centers and arms should be handed over to the Lebanese army, in coordination with Jumblatt," Arslan said.

"I ask the opposition members, of all sides, to come to an immediate cease-fire. I will contact Gen. Michel Sleiman after this press conference to lay a plan to have the army take full control of the entire region of Mount Lebanon."

The Hezbollah-led opposition has delivered a series of crushing blows to its Western-backed political opponents by imposing itself in the mountains, asserting dominance over predominantly Muslim West Beirut, silencing key pro-government television stations and closing Beirut's international airport.

The embattled government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora still stands, but the coalition that backs him has been severely weakened. The Lebanese army, it seems, can do little but deploy in positions where the opposition has made substantial gains in power and authority.

Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers met in Egypt on Sunday to try to find a solution to the latest deadly crisis, AP reported.

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Also on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI urged the Lebanese people to find a "reasonable compromise" to end their conflict, AP said.

Benedict told pilgrims in St. Peter's Square that he was following "with deep concern" the developments in Lebanon, where, "with political initiative at a stalemate, first came verbal violence and then armed clashes, with many dead and wounded."

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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