Friday, May 9, 2008

Hezbollah overruns west Beirut as Lebanon on brink

Contributed by Lucia in Spain

"BEIRUT (AFP) - Hezbollah gunmen seized control of west Beirut on Friday after a third day of battles with pro-government foes in the Lebanese capital pushed the nation dangerously close to all-out civil war.

The sectarian fighting had eased by early afternoon as the army and police moved across areas now in the hands of Shiite opposition forces who routed Sunni militants loyal to the Western-backed government.

"There are no clashes anymore because no one is standing in the way of the opposition forces," a security official said on condition of anonymity......

In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- whose country is Iran's closest regional ally -- said the unrest was a purely "internal affair."

Witnesses reported fierce gunbattles in several parts of west Beirut as the Sunni neighourhoods considered bastions of Lebanon's ruling bloc fell to militants from Hezbollah and its ally Amal.......
Hezbollah, the most powerful armed movement in Lebanon, has also forced the shutdown of all media belonging to the family of parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, while a rocket hit the outer perimeter of his Beirut residence.......

Gunmen firing rocket-propelled grenades surrounded the headquarters of the Hariri's Future Television and his movement's Al-Mustaqbal newspaper early Friday, forcing all its media outlets to close.

"The army is in control of institutions placed under its authority, such as the media outlets of the Future Movement," the army said.

"It also controls the area around the government headquarters, the central bank, major roads and the area where Hariri and Jumblatt's residences are located in west Beirut," referring to prominent Druze leader Walid Jumblatt....... "

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