Clashes broke out in Beirut Tuesday evening between the Shiite organizations Hezbollah and the Sunni militia al-Ahbash. Lebanese media reported that at least three people were killed, one of them a senior Hezbollah official. It was later reported that order was restored in the city.
Hezbollah and al-Ahbash issued a joint statement late Tuesday night, saying that "the unfortunate event which took place tonight at Burj Abu Haidar, was an isolated event with no political or religious motive. The Lebanese army will conduct in investigation and will unveil those trying to hurt stability and security."
Fighting started Tuesday night in the Burj Abu Haidar neighborhood in downtown Beirut, and included RPGs and automatic weapons. According to the report, a Chevrolet containing four Hezbollah operatives entered the mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood in the Lebanese capital, and the passengers opened fire. The situation quickly escalated, and the Sunnis fired back at the vehicle.
The senior Hezbollah man killed in the fighting was Muhammad Fawaz, the organization's leading man in the neighborhood where the clashes took place. His assistant, Ali Jawaz, was also killed in the incident.
Lebanese troops in area of clashes (Photo: AFP)
Lebanese authorities said Ahmad Omeirat, of the radical Sunni al-Ahbash group was also killed.
According to initial reports, the bodies of the two Hezbollah men were being held by the Sunni operatives. Hezbollah gave their Sunni rivals an ultimate of three hours to hand the bodies over.
Mosque torched, carrying weapons banned
Lebanese media reported that a mosque affiliated with the Sunni al-Ahbash movement was torched hours after the clashes broke. The Lebanese military was deployed to the neighborhood, and Lebanese Defense Minister Elias al-Murr issued a decree against carrying weapons in the streets.
Following the clashes, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who also heads the Shiite Amal movement, discussed the situation and agreed the fighting must end immediately. Mosques in the area also urged the gunmen to hold their fire.
Hours after fighting broke, al-Jazeera reported that order was restored in Beirut. Hezbollah's al-Manar television station belittled the incident, and called it "security disorder".
According to reports Hezbollah and al-Ahbash representatives met in the Lebanese military's headquarters in an attempt to quell the violence. It remained unclear what Hezbollah's Wafiq Safa and al-Ahbash's Badr at-Tabash decided on, but reports said one possibility was that the person behind the shooting at Hezbollah be handed over to the organization.
Contrary to earlier reports, operatives of the Shiite Amal organization were not involved in the fighting.
Hezbollah Spokesman Ibrahim Mousawi denied that his organization have al-Ahbash an ultimatum of three hours to return the bodies. Al-Manar was slow in reporting on the incident, and did not give full details of events.
Lebanon has a history of deadly sectarian strife, which has even escalated to civil war. The most recent clash in the city's northern neighborhood broke after Hezbollah was implicated in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The international tribunal probing the assassination said Hezbollah has yet to submit the evidence it says it has tying Israel to the act.
Last week Hezbollah handed Lebanese authorities its "evidence" implicating Israel in the killing, but according to the UN prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, Hezbollah only gave his office six DVDs that have already been made public, but did not hand over any of the additional evidence the organization said it had.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech two weeks ago that Israel was behind the assassination, and presented aerial photographs showing that Israel was tracking Hariri days prior to his death.
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