At least 10 people have died as violent clashes erupted in Beirut, after Hezb’ullah said the government had declared outright war. Rival groups fought street battles after pro-Syrian Hezb’ullah was accused of operating its own telecommunications system, effectively running a state-within-a-state.
Hezb’ullah’s spiritual leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said the telecoms network was a vital part of its fight against Israel and America. The leader of Lebanon’s pro-Western coalition government called on Hezb’ullah to end what he called the siege of Beirut.
Saad Hariri demanded that Hezb’ullah restrain its gunmen, saying what was happening was a crime, but he said Beirut would never bow to violence. At least five of his party’s offices were stormed by gunmen, and militants have all but shut the airport.
Journalists in the city say it is a no-win situation. The newspaper al-Anwar said the government would be finished if it backs down, but cannot impose its will because of Hezb’ullah’s strength. However, it said the Shi’ite group cannot step back for fear of seeming weak, while fighting on could condemn Lebanon to militia rule and anarchy.