Lebanon's majority under siege; negotiations under way

Lebanon's majority under siege; negotiations under way

Beirut residents were seen early Friday fleeing the city towards Christian east Beirut after clashes engulfed the city throughout the night, killing at least 10 people and injuring more than 30 others, reported the dpa.

Taking advantage of sporadic lulls Friday morning, some people fled with their children to safer areas.

The opposition-led Hezbollah is now in control of most of the city of Beirut and is heading towards the house of majority leader Saad Hariri, while others are trying to reach an area where anti-Syrian leader Walid Jumblatt is residing.

Sources inside Hariri's Palace told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that there were no clashes, only a rocket-propelled grenade hit the checkpoint near the palace. But there were no injuries.

"All inside the palace are well and the palace is controlled by the Lebanese army soldiers," the sources said.

But streets leading to Hariri's house inside the capital were filled with opposition militiamen.

The house of another anti-Syria majority politician, Walid Jumblatt, was also under siege, but the army has taken precautionary measures to prevent opposition militiamen from reaching it.

Unconfirmed reports are now saying that Jumblatt had left his house, but sources close to Jumblatt told dpa "that Jumblatt is still in Beirut and among his allies."

Opposition sources told dpa negotiations are underway to contain the situation.

The governmental palace where Premier Fouad Seniora is holed up with other ministers is also now under the "direct control of the opposition followers."

An opposition militiaman who gave dpa a tour of the area indicated that all buildings surrounding the governmental palace are controlled by the opposition.

"Beirut is now under our full control," said the masked opposition militiamen.

Gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades were still heard around the city and the streets were full of masked militiamen carrying machineguns, pistols and rocket-propelled grenades.

The mouthpiece of the Sunni Muslim Future Current movement, al Mustaqbal newspaper, owned by the Hariri family, was stormed by opposition followers at dawn.

"The army now is inside the building of the newspaper and the employees are now safe," said a journalist who works for the newspaper.

Future Television, also owned by the Hariri family, is now under the control of the army, and the station has stopped its broadcasts.

"We received a threat from the opposition to shut down or they will storm the building, so we decided to shut down and called on the Lebanese army to intervene," Nadim Munla, the director general of Future Television told dpa.

"They want us to silence our voices as well," Munla said.

The situation deteriorated in Beirut after a rare press conference via video link by Hezbollah chief sheikh Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday.

Nasrallah, blasting the government probe of his group's communications network, said: "The hand that extends to touch the network would be chopped off."

He also called the Western-backed government of Lebanon's Premier Fouad Seniora as a "gang" and described anti-Syrian Druze leader Walid Jumblatt of "being the prime minister of Lebanon and not Premier Fouad Seniora."

The clashes prompted the head of the ruling majority, Sunni politician Saad Hariri, to hold a press conference Thursday, urging Hezbollah to lift Beirut's "siege."

The latest round of tensions was sparked by the government's decision earlier this week to confront Hezbollah by replacing the Beirut airport security chief for alleged ties to the Shiite group.

Supporters of the Hezbollah-led opposition blocked roads in the capital Wednesday to enforce a strike called by labour unions protesting the government's economic policies and demanding pay raises.

The strike quickly escalated into street confrontations between supporters of the rival camps. About a dozen people were injured, mostly by stones, but no deaths were reported.

On Thursday, the violence spread outside the capital. Sunnis and Shiites exchanged gunfire in the village of Saadnayel in the eastern Bekaa Valley. Four people were injured, said security officials.

At least one person was killed and 10 others were wounded during the daytime clashes.

Lebanon is passing through its worst crisis, since the country's 15-year civil war ended in 1990. The political impasse has left the country without a president since November, when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his mandate.

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