Lebanon troops patrol Beirut after Hezbollah pullout - Emirates24|7

Lebanon troops patrol Beirut after Hezbollah pullout

Lebanese troops patrolled Beirut on Sunday after Hezbollah fighters pulled back from areas they had seized in gun battles with supporters of the US-backed government.

But clashes broke out overnight between pro- and anti-government fighters in northern Lebanon, and fighting was  reported on Sunday in the mountains east of Beirut.

Security sources said at least two people were killed and five were wounded in the fighting in Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest city, before the army deployed to separate both sides.

An 18-month-old political deadlock spilled out into open warfare last Wednesday after the US-backed Lebanese government decided to move against a military communications network owned by Hezbollah and sacked the head of security at Beirut airport, who is close to the group.

Hezbollah called the move a declaration of war, saying the network had played a crucial role in its 34-day war with Israel in 2006.

The Shi'ite Muslim group seized much of west Beirut on Friday after its fighters routed supporters of the anti-Syrian ruling coalition.

Police put the toll of five days of fighting in Beirut and elsewhere at 44 dead and 128 wounded.

But Hezbollah agreed to withdraw its forces from Beirut after the Lebanese army overturned government decisions. But the Hezbollah-led opposition said it would maintain a campaign of "civil disobedience" until all its demands were met.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said his cabinet would meet soon to decide on Hezbollah's demand and the army's request that the government annuls the decisions altogether.

"This issue will be discussed inside the cabinet who would decide the route to this and what comes after these two decisions," he told reporters after standing on the steps of his office along with some ministers and members of his staff a minute's silence to mourn the victims of the fighting.


In Beirut, hundreds of soldiers backed by armoured vehicles set up roadblocks and took up positions on the streets of the mainly Muslim part of the capital.

There were no gunmen in sight but youths maintained barricades on some crucial roads, ensuring Beirut's air and sea ports remained closed.

Hezbollah, a political group backed by Iran and Syria and which has a guerrilla army, said on Saturday it was ending its armed presence in Beirut after the army overturned government decisions against it.

While tension eased in Beirut, there was little progress in efforts to resolve the political disputes that have plunged Lebanon into its worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

"At the level of what caused the immediate crisis, we are half way towards defusing it," said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. "We seem to be over that immediate hump", but no end to the wider crisis was in sight.

Arab foreign minister ministers began an emergency meeting in Cairo to discuss the crisis. But Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moualem, whose country is a main ally of Hezbollah, was not present.  Pope Benedict on Sunday called for dialogue and an end to the violence.

"Even if in the last few hours tension has subsided, I think we have a duty today to urge the Lebanese to abandon all patterns of aggressive confrontation that would push their dear country towards the irreparable," he said.

The United States, which considers Hezbollah a terrorist group, a threat to Israel and a weapon in the hands of its arch-foe Iran, welcomed the end of the fighting.

Iran blamed Washington and said it backed an internal solution to the political deadlock in Beirut.

"The United States is directly interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs and at the same time the US is blaming others, accusing others of interfering in Lebanon," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.

The Arab League began an emergency meeting called by Saudi Arabia and Egypt to discuss the Lebanese crisis.

Lebanon has been in political deadlock for 18 months over opposition demands for a greater say in government.

Prime Minister Siniora, whose legitimacy is disputed by the opposition, on Saturday handed responsibility for the moves against Hezbollah to the army, seen as a neutral player which has sought to avoid conflict with either side.

The army said it would handle the issue of the communications network in a way "that would not harm public interest and the security of the resistance". It also said it was reinstating the head of airport security.