Saniora calls on army to remove Hizbullah from the streets
Cross posted from Jerusalem Post.com
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora called on the nation's army Saturday to restore law and order across Lebanon and remove gunmen from the streets, accusing Hizbullah of staging an armed coup.
The dream of democracy in Lebanon has been dealt "a poisonous stab by the armed coup carried out by Hizbullah and its allies," he said, saying Beirut was an "occupied, besieged" city.
Addressing the army, he said: "I call on it once again to impose security on all, in all areas, deter the gunmen and immediately remove them from the street ... to restore normal life."
In his nationally televised speech, Saniora also said Lebanon could no longer tolerate Hizbullah having weapons - signaling that the US-backed government was toughening its stand against the Shiite opposition group despite its loss of ground in street fighting in Beirut.
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But despite his tough talk, Saniora's embattled government appeared unable to move against Hizbullah or force the army to act. The army has stayed out of the fighting and has deployed troops in the last 24 hours.
Saniora also appeared to be retreating from the government decisions that triggered the street confrontation, offering a compromise that would effectively shelve them. The offer, however, was unlikely to be accepted by Hizbullah and its allies who have already rejected a similar compromise from Sunni majority leader Saad Hariri earlier.
Saniora's first comment since fighting erupted Wednesday came as conditions appeared to be mostly calm in Beirut's Muslim sector a day after Shiite gunmen swept through the area. Elsewhere around the country, however, violence appeared to be on the rise.
Some 25 people have died in four days of clashes.
In a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of the capital, a Shiite shopowner opened fire on a funeral procession, killing two and wounding six, police and witnesses said.
In a mountain town east of Beirut, Hizbullah accused a pro-government Druse group of kidnapping two of its members and killing them. A statement held Druse leader Walid Jumblatt "personally responsible" for the safety of a third Hizbullah man.
In Beirut's western Muslim sector, though, the focus of the fighting, most Hizbullah gunmen had pulled out leaving just small bands of their Shiite Amal allies to patrol the streets.
The funeral shooting and the reported kidnapping and execution underlined the state of lawlessness and the sharpened sectarian tensions that have engulfed the country since Sunni-Shiite fighting erupted in the capital's Muslim sector on Wednesday resulting in Hizbullah's takeover of Sunni neighborhoods.
Hizbullah moved Thursday to seize the Sunni neighborhoods of Beirut in a show of force after its leader Hassan Nasrallah accused the government of "declaring war" on his group when it declared the organization's communications network illegal and ordered the removal of the airport security chief for alleged ties to the group.
On Saturday, Beirutis cautiously ventured out in small numbers to streets held by both Lebanese troops and lingering bands of Shiite gunmen.
Beirut had a quiet night after the worst sectarian violence since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. But the violence moved outside the capital, leaving eight more people dead near the town of Aley late Friday. Another civilian died in the clashes in the southern city of Sidon.
Hizbullah has shut Lebanon's airport by barricading the road leading to it. The seaport also was closed.