(photo credit: Associated Press)
Shi’ite and Sunni groups traded machine gun fire and grenades in Beirut on
Tuesday, killing two people and wounding several others just blocks from a busy
downtown packed with tourists.
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Lebanese soldiers cordoned off the area
and prevented journalists from entering, but the crackle of sniper fire and
popping of rocket-propelled grenades were audible.
Gunmen stood on the
corners and peered down alleyways in the neighborhood while families ran for
cover. Ambulances rushed to the scene, and an elderly man was loaded into a
stretcher, clutching his neck.
The shootout erupted between supporters of
the Shi’ite Hizbullah and a Sunni conservative group in the mixed residential
area of Bourj Abu Haidar near Beirut’s downtown, security officials
Hizbullah was battling the pro-Syrian Sunni Association of Islamic
Charitable Projects, known as the Al-Ahbash group, which has a history of
feuding with the Shi’ite group, they added.
The officials said Muhammad
Fawaz, the local Hizbullah commander in Bourj Abu Haidar, had been killed along
with his subordinate Ali Jouaz.
Fawaz Omeirat of Al-Ahbash was also
killed in the fighting.
According to initial reports, the car in which
they were traveling got into the crossfire between Hizbullah supporters and the
Sunni group. According to Lebanese paper Al-Akhabr, the clash started when
Al-Ahbash members tried to bar Hizbullah men from passing through a neighborhood
where the Sunni group holds control.
Shortly afterward, Shi’ite
supporters of Hizbullah and sister organization Amal set fire to a Sunni mosque
in the nearby neighborhood of Basta, according to an AP
Salah, a 40-year-old who did not wish to give his last
name, said he had been inside the Bourj Abu Haidar mosque when he heard a
commotion outside and people screaming, “Calm down.”
Then, 20 minutes
later, he heard gunshots and bullets slamming into the mosque.
shooting at the mosque. I think these people are crazy. They must have gone home
to get their friends,” he said.
Salah stayed inside with others before
fleeing during a lull in the fighting.
Sunni fighters were reportedly
holding the bodies of the slain Hizbullah members and were given a three-hour
ultimatum to transfer them to Hizbullah.
The fighting took place as
Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah addressed supporters, calling for increased
military assistance for the Lebanese Army from Iran and its Arab
The army cordoned off the area to restore calm.
Lebanese media said rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns were
Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Murr published an edict
forbidding people to carry firearms in the street. It was the worst clash since
May 2008, when Hizbullah gunmen swept through Sunni neighborhoods of Beirut
after the pro-Western government tried to dismantle the group’s telecommunications network.
The fighting at the time brought the country
to the brink of a new civil war. Lebanon has a history of deadly
Tensions have been running high in recent weeks over signs a UN
tribunal could indict Hizbullah members in the 2005 killing of former
minister Rafik Hariri.
Nasrallah has said he has information that the
tribunal will implicate Hizbullah members, but he calls the tribunal an
project” that has no credibility.AP and Bloomberg contributed to this