01/26/2007, 00.00
LEBANON
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Tense calm prevails as the shadow of civil war looms over Beirut

by Paul Dakiki
Both majority and opposition leaders slam yesterday’s clashes, which bring back memories of the 15-year civil war. Saudi Arabia denies that any negotiations are underway with Iran over the Lebanon crisis. Maronite League urges all parties to engage in dialogue on the basis of the Bkerke principles.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – “Let God curse those who rekindled the civil war,” titled As-Safir in its front page reporting on yesterday’s clashes between pro-government and Shia students at Beirut’s Arab University which spread to surrounding neighbourhoods causing the death of four people and injuring another 150.

The Daily Star also wrote that some of scenes across the capital were reminiscent of the country's brutal 1975-1990 Civil War. Indeed all Lebanese newspapers focused on the same thing: images of young men shooting.

Beirut woke up this morning in a very tense calm after the army imposed a curfew on the capital, something that had not happened in ten years.

Concern, even fear, that the civil war might raise its ugly head again has gripped people in both majority and opposition camps, at least among their leaders.

Last night Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issued a fatwa. “In the interests of the country and civil peace," he said, “[e]veryone should evacuate the streets . . . we call for the measures of the Lebanese army to be respected.”

Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri issued a call to his followers to "remain calm and not respond to provocation” which he blamed on those who want to stir violence and sabotage the positive results of the international aid conference for Lebanon.

From Paris, an aid package worth US$ 7.6 billion from Western and moderate Arab nations in his pocket, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora called on the Lebanese to choose wisdom and reject escalation.

In a bleak statement, the Maronite League asserted the shared responsibility of all political leaders for yesterday’s incidents.

“Let no one blame others for what is happening,” said the press released by the prestigious association whose members include former presidents, judges and intellectuals. “We are all responsible, with no exception. Trading accusations won’t stop clashes, stones, sticks, knives and bullets and, God protect us, cannons.”

The League urged all Lebanese political factions to renew their dialogue on the basis of the principles of Bkerke, i.e. the guidelines laid down by the country’s Maronite bishops to overcome the crisis and formally accepted by all.

Beside the streets of Beirut and the corridors of the Paris conference, Lebanon’s crisis has also caused Iran and Saudi Arabia to trade words. The two are respectively backers of the Shia-dominated opposition and the Sunni-led majority.

Yesterday in fact Iran claimed that it was discussing the Lebanon crisis with the Saudis, something Saudi authorities denied.

Saudi irritation was echoed in Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal’s response to a reporter’s question about a letter Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent to King Abdullah.

“The message was an offer to cooperate to achieve solidarity between Muslims," the prince said. And the “return message was that 'if this is the intention, then it is actions that speak louder than words, and that if Iran can do anything to quieten its supporters in the region, this would be the best service that can be done for the solidarity of Muslims.'"

Asked about reports of negotiations between the two countries over Lebanon, the prince said: "There is no initiative really."

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