Report: 2 killed in Beirut funeral attack
Hezbollah militants have set up checkpoints in western Beirut a day after taking control in Lebanon's capital and dealing a major blow to the U.S.-backed government, as the previous violence largely subsided on Saturday, reported CNN.
However, police said two people were killed and two wounded when unknown gunmen opened fire on a funeral procession in a Sunni Muslim stronghold, The Associated Press reported.
Militia members, armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, earlier patrolled the streets after forcing pro-government forces from the capital's Sunni Muslim neighborhoods. Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim militant group backed by Iran and Syria.
The relative calm following three days of clashes put at least a temporary hold on the worst sectarian violence since the end of the country's civil war in 1991.
Twenty-one people have been killed and 86 wounded since the start of clashes on Wednesday, Lebanese Internal Security Forces told CNN on Saturday before news of the funeral attack broke.
Friday's attacks were described it as a "coup" by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a part of the March 14 pro-government coalition.
Jumblatt's coalition called the takeover an effort to "bring Syria back to Lebanon" and extend Iran's reach to the Mediterranean.
Jumblatt said the government was "now at the end of a gun barrel" and expected the "conditions for surrender will be offered sooner or later."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Hezbollah leaders of trying to "protect their state within a state."
"Hezbollah has exploited its allies and demonstrated its contempt for its fellow Lebanese," she said. "No one has the right to deprive Lebanese citizens of their political and economic freedom, their right to move freely within their country or their sense of safety and security."
Hezbollah leaders did not make public statements Friday.
The Lebanese army did not join the battles that erupted this week. Taking sides could throw the military -- with its own political factions -- into disarray.
Soldiers instead effectively negotiated a surrender of pro-government positions, Lebanese Internal Security Forces and Western military observers said.
With pro-government gunmen out of the way, fighting in the capital eased a bit Friday after two days of intense gun battles echoing through Beirut's streets.
Two pro-government TV stations were shut down -- and the building of one, Future TV, was soon on fire. Video Watch the TV station burn "
Nadim Mounla, the head of Future TV, said Hezbollah had sent a "clear message" that it would destroy the stations.
The building housing offices of a newspaper was set on fire as well. It and the two TV stations are owned by the prominent Hariri family, leading supporters of the government.
Hezbollah "turned their weapons ... toward the hearts of the innocent civilians of Beirut," said Samir Geagea, executive director of the Lebanese forces, reading a statement after a meeting of the pro-government March 14 coalition.
"They invaded their neighborhoods and shelled their homes with a hail of bombs that were sent from Tehran through the Damascus gateway," he said.
Syria and Iran support Hezbollah, and Syrian troops occupied Lebanon from 1990 until 2006.
Iran said Friday that "U.S.-Israel adventurism" was the "main cause for lingering crisis and instability" in Lebanon. Video Watch how the world is responding to the crisis "
State-run news agency IRNA, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini, added that "Iran's stand on Lebanon has always been based on non-interference in a matter that is entirely related to the Lebanese nation, alone."
And Syria's state-run news agency SANA said President Bashar al-Assad discussed Lebanon during a meeting with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
"The two sides hoped that the brothers in Lebanon would be able to find a solution to this situation through dialogue among themselves in a way that preserves the security and stability of Lebanon," al-Assad said.
The country's elected, pro-Western government has long been locked in a power struggle with Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006.
Earlier this week, the government demanded Hezbollah shutter its telecommunications operations, which Hezbollah called an act of war.
The government also fired the chief of security at the Beirut airport amid a probe of allegations that Hezbollah had installed cameras and other monitoring equipment there to spy on political opponents.
Saad Hariri, the leader of the government's bloc in parliament, is the son of the late former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose 2005 assassination sparked protests that brought the current government to power and led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops. Video Watch Hariri supporters protest "
Since then, dynamics in Lebanon have been reshaped by the war between Hezbollah and Israel, and by the ongoing power struggle between Hezbollah and the government.