Wed, May 14, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Lebanese military set to restore order

ENOUGH NOWTroops were prepared to use force to end the six days of violence that has killed 61 people. Schools reopened in Beirut, where the situation was calm

AFP , BEIRUT

A Lebanese shepherd gestures while he guides his sheep home in Beirut, Lebanon, on Monday. There was an uneasy calm on the streets of Beirut, which have been the focus of bloody sectarian clashes recently between Sunnis and Shiites, with many roads remaining blocked by the ongoing civil disobedience campaign.

PHOTO: AP

Lebanese troops were set to use force if necessary yesterday to disarm gunmen and enforce law and order after six days of deadly sectarian gunbattles that have thrown the nation into fear and chaos.

The military had said that as of 6am its troops were ready to resort to force to bring an end to the violence pitting supporters of the Western-backed government against members of the Hezbollah-led opposition.

The fighting, which has left at least 61 people dead and scores more wounded, is the worst sectarian unrest since the 1975 to 1990 civil war and had stoked fears the country was headed for another all-out conflict.

US President George W. Bush warned Iran and Syria that the international community would not allow Lebanon to fall under foreign domination again and vowed to shore up the Lebanese army.

Fierce battles erupted for about a half hour overnight between Sunnis loyal to the government and pro-Hezbollah Alawites in the northern port city of Tripoli but by early yesterday troops were reinforcing their presence in affected areas.

Similar violence shook Tripoli on Monday leaving at least one person dead, but no fighting was reported in other areas and in Beirut the situation was calm, schools have reopened and traffic was slowly returning to normal.

However, several main highways remained blocked by Hezbollah-led Shiite protests, including the road to the Lebanon's only international airport outside Beirut, which is still shut.

"As of 9am we have no reports of any incidents in areas where the army has deployed," an army spokesman said.

The An-Nahar newspaper said the army decision followed commitments from both camps to rein in their militants pending the outcome of crisis talks with an Arab League delegation due in Lebanon today.

"Today's [yesterday's] agenda: The army takes hold of the streets ... even by force," declared a headline in the As-Safir newspaper, which is close to the opposition.

Bush, who was to leave Washington yesterday for a trip to the Middle East, said his administration would help Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora by strengthening his armed forces.

"I strongly condemn Hezbollah's recent efforts, and those of their foreign sponsors in Tehran and Damascus, to use violence and intimidation to bend the government and people of Lebanon to their will," Bush said in a statement. "The international community will not allow the Iranian and Syrian regimes, via their proxies, to return Lebanon to foreign domination and control."

The latest unrest, which dramatically raised the stakes in an 18-month standoff between the ruling majority and the Syrian and Iranian-backed opposition, erupted after a government crackdown against Hezbollah activities, which the Shiite Muslim militant group said amounted to a declaration of war.

The ensuing sectarian clashes saw Hezbollah gunmen and their allies take over large swathes of majority Sunni areas of mainly Muslim west Beirut, routing pro-government forces.

Hezbollah ended its takeover at the weekend but only after the army reversed the government's decision to probe the group's communication network and to reassign the head of airport security over claims he was close to Hezbollah.

After foreign ministers held weekend crisis talks in Cairo, an Arab League delegation prepared to visit Beirut today in a bid to end the fighting.

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