Hizbullah gunmen took control of large areas of Beirut on Friday in a third day of fighting between the pro-Iranian group and fighters loyal to the US-backed governing coalition, seizing control of roads leading to Beirut's airport, which was forced to halt all activity, as well as the city's seaport. All of the media offices in Beirut have also reportedly halted all activity, and the employees were evacuated by gunmen.
Hizbullah gunmen surrounded a government office building in Beirut's center, the Saudi Al Arabiya network reported, as well as several Sunni neighborhoods. One of the neighborhoods is home to leader of Lebanon's US-backed governing coalition Saad al-Hariri, the son of assassinated Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
The gunmen loyal to Hizbullah reportedly surrounded his home, and forced his TV station, the pro-government Future News television, to go off the air, a senior official at the Beirut said.
"An army officer accompanied by members of Hizbullah walked into the station and told us to switch off transmission. We are off the air," said the official.
Security sources said Hizbullah and fighters from the allied Amal movement had overrun offices of Hariri's Future group across the predominantly Muslim western half of Beirut. Gunmen had also taken over the offices of Hariri's Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, witnesses said.
Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the Lebanese government, called for an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers to discuss the crisis in Lebanon, Saudi-owned
Al Arabiya television said on Friday.
Friday marked the third day of fighting between the pro-Syrian organization and fighters loyal to the US-backed governing coalition, during which At least 10 people had been killed and 20 wounded, according to security sources.
The thud of exploding grenades and crackle of automatic gunfire echoed overnight in the worst internal strife since the 1975-90 civil war, as fighters from Hizbullah and Amal exchanged assault rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades with pro-government gunmen, including fighters loyal to the Sunni Future movement, in several areas of the capital.
TV station offices on fire (Photo: Reuters)
The violence was triggered when the government declared Hizbullah's military communications network illegal. Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Thursday the government decision was a declaration of war.
The UN Security Council called for "calm and restraint", urging all sides to return to peaceful dialogue. The White House urged Hizbullah to stop "disruptive" acts.
Roee Nahmias contributed to this article