Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Roundabout from Daily Star

Day 6: Army warns armed groups to stay off streets by Hussein Abdallah

BEIRUT: Lebanon's army said on Monday it would use force if necessary to impose law and order in the country and prevent any armed presence of any of the warring factions.

"Army units will halt violations ... in accordance with the law, even if that leads to the use of force," a military statement said. It said the army would start implementing the order at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.

Fighting erupted again in North Lebanon on Monday, further exacerbating tensions after days of deadly battles that have driven the nation to the brink of full-blown civil war.

At least one man was killed in clashes between armed supporters of the Western-backed government and the Hizbullah-led opposition in the port city of Tripoli, a security official said.

Sunni Islamist groups in Tripoli on Sunday had declared that they were entering the fight in the city, where one woman was killed in weekend fighting.

Also Monday, a security official said three cars with Syrian license plates came under fire there, leaving three people wounded. Syria is accused of supporting the opposition.

Lebanon has been rocked by six days of fighting that have left at least 59 people dead and nearly 200 wounded in the worst internal unrest since the 1975-1990 Civil War.

Lebanon's ruling majority vowed it would not negotiate with Hizbullah under the gun, as Arab ministers prepared to send a team to try to end a feud which some fear could engulf other parts of the volatile region.

On Monday, Lebanese troops also moved into different areas of Mount Lebanon southeast of the capital after firefights between rival factions on Sunday left at least 36 people dead, a security official said.

Many people have fled the region, where homes were hit by rockets, shop windows broken and cars set ablaze.

Security sources told The Daily Star on Monday that 14 Hizbullah fighters were among the dead in those battles.

Opposition forces overran several posts held by Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Jumblatt's gunmen in the Aley district east of Beirut before Jumblatt agreed to hand them over to the army. Jumblatt had authorized his Druze rival, Talal Arslan, to mediate with Hizbullah.

Arslan said Monday that Jumblatt's men had handed over most of their offices and strongholds in Aley to the army, but said he was still waiting for them to turn in heavy weapons and arms depots.

"I will not be responsible for any possible escalation if heavy weapons are not turned in a timely manner," Arslan said.

Security sources told The Daily Star on Monday that Hizbullah gunmen also clashed overnight with PSP forces in the Chouf district Barouk. The sources said that 12 people were killed in the fighting.

PSP sources said that Hizbullah militants were trying to penetrate to the Druze area of Barouk before being confronted by PSP gunmen.

But Hizbullah sources said that the opposition group was on the defense when PSP militants tried to cross from the Chouf to the Western Bekaa.

In Beirut, there was an uneasy calm, although schools and some businesses were still shut. Some opposition barricades remained, the road to Beirut's international airport was shut for the sixth straight day and a border crossing into Syria was still blocked.

Clashes turned deadly Thursday after Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused the government of effectively declaring war against his party, and spread to other parts of Lebanon at the weekend. But opposition fighters withdrew from the capital's streets Saturday after the army acted to overturn two government measures against Hizbullah. - With agencies

Compiled by Daily Star staff

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday praised Arab countries for rejecting militia attacks in Lebanon as illegitimate, but acknowledged that the situation there is "very fragile."

"I think it was a good statement," Rice said after Arab League foreign ministers issued a statement in Cairo on Sunday.

The resolution underlined the Arab League's "rejection of the use of armed violence to achieve political goals outside the framework of constitutional legitimacy, and the need for a withdrawal of all weapons from the streets."

Rice said: "It made very clear that the militias should not be in the streets, that to use force of arms against ones own people is something that is clearly illegitimate.

"And there is a legitimate government of Lebanon we are working with others to support and sustain it," said Rice.

She then called for all those "interfering" with a process to elect a consensus candidate for president of Lebanon to "step aside and let it take place."

Meanwhile, Rice also participated in a conference call on the crisis in Lebanon Monday with a dozen other top diplomats from Europe and the Middle East, her spokesman said.

Also on Monday, The White House expressed concern Monday for civilians caught up in fighting, and appealed for respect of the nation's democracy.

Asked if talks would go ahead between President George W. Bush and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Sunday in Egypt, spokeswoman Dana Perino said there were "no changes" to Bush's schedule at the moment.

"But our concern is one, for the safety of the innocent civilians who are caught in the middle in this conflict," she told reporters.

"And we believe that the Lebanese deserve to have the democracy that they asked for, and the one that they voted for. And we are very disappointed in what's been happening, very concerned by it," Perino said.

"And the president, you can bet, is going to be talking about this while he is on his trip." - AFP

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