05/09/2008, 00.00
LEBANON

Fighting dies down, Hezbollah controls west Beirut

Paul Dakiki
Mobilised on orders from their leader, militiamen of the Party of God have gained the advantage against the supporters of Hariri, closing their radio, television, and newspaper outlets. The UN security council expresses its support for the legitimate government. Saudi Arabia wants a meeting of the foreign ministers of Arab countries.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The battle seems to have died down in Beirut; the militants of Hezbollah - armed and organised like an army - have gained ground against the Sunni supporters of the parliamentary majority, led by Rafik Hariri, and now control most of west Beirut and, with bombs or solely through threats, they have blocked radio, television, and newspaper outlets connected to the son of the slain prime minister.  There are unverified reports of deaths and injuries, while there seems to be no ray of hope.

The attack on west Beirut, a Sunni majority area, began yesterday, and this morning the television station of Hezbollah, Al-Manar, announced that "the Lebanese opposition has cleansed west Beirut of Zionist collaborators".  This morning, the men of Hezbollah attacked and set fire to offices of the governing parties, and also to that of a broadcaster of Hariri's movement, the radio station Ash Sharq.  At about 11:00 a.m., the army removed from his home Walid Jumblat, one of the leaders of the majority, described yesterday by Nasrallah as "the true head of the government".  A rocket hit the wall surrounding Hariri's home.  Late in the morning, the army reopened the area around the Phoenicia Hotel, where many deputies of the majority are staying.  Also late in the morning, armed men of the socialist Syrian party were seen taking up positions.  In Tyre, armed men attacked the home of the (Sunni) mufti Jabal Amel Sayyed Ali al-Amin.

On the international level, the government of Fouad Siniora has received the support of the UN security council, in addition to that of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, and the United States.  UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen says that Hezbollah "maintains a massive paramilitary infrastructure separate from the state".  Saudi Arabia has asked for an immediate meeting of the foreign ministers of Arab countries.

In Beirut, the situation was precipitated last night by the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, who in a televised message maintain that the telephone network of the party - which the government wanted to dismantle - is "a weapon" in the war against Israel, and he called for recourse to arms in order to defend it.  In complete agreement with Hezbollah, Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, said on television that dismantling the telephone network of the Party of God could compromise the resistance against Israel.  He also maintained that the government has "all the responsibility" for what is happening.

Nasrallah also accused the government of wanting to put the international airport of Beirut at the disposal of the CIA, the FBI, and the Israeli Mossad, by removing Wafiq Shqeir, head of security for the airport, after accusing him of permitting Hezbollah to install cameras to monitor departures and arrivals in the capital. Nasrallah, according to whom it is the government that has declared war on Hezbollah, has stated: "We are at war, and they are not able to predict our reactions".  "This is a new era".

Hezbollah has also rejected the proposal from Hariri to leave the questions of the telephone network and the airport in the hands of the head of the army, Michel Suleiman, recognised by all - at least formally - as the future president of the republic.  He should be elected immediately, according to Hariri.

For Hariri, Nasrallah's refusal confirms the intention of Hezbollah to replace the state.

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