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Second Day of Violence Engulfs Beirut


Clashes between Lebanese government supporters and the opposition Hezbollah are continuing for a second day in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley. As Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Beirut, Hezbollah has been blocking several strategic highways as well as Beirut Airport.

Street clashes in Beirut have taken an ominous new turn after Lebanon's top Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim leaders accused each other of taking orders from foreign powers to provoke religious strife.

Sectarian clashes between pro-Hezbollah Shi'ite militiamen and Sunni supporters of government majority leader Sa'ad Hariri prompted Lebanon's Sunni Mufti Mohammed Rashid Qabbani to accuse Hezbollah of "trying to seize control of the country" with the help of Iran and Syria.

Shi'ite Mufti Abd al Amir Qabbalan replied angrily that it was the United States and Israel that were trying to "set fire to Lebanon and the Middle East."

The Mufti said, Arab patriots and Muslims are facing an American-Israeli plot to create religious strife, and destroy the noble resistance to Israel.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah supporters continued to set tires on fire and pile mounds of sand to block major roads, including the highway from Beirut to Damascus, the coastal highway south of Beirut and the road to Beirut Airport. Activity at the airport remained paralyzed for a second day.

Lebanese Army tanks also positioned themselves along key intersections where Hezbollah and anti-Hezbollah partisans were throwing rocks and exchanging gunfire.

Army Commander Michel Suleiman reportedly refused a government plea to impose a curfew to stop the violence.

Nearly a dozen people were wounded in clashes around the mixed Shi'ite and Sunni neighborhood of Mazraa, where businessmen piled sandbags to protect their shops and burned-out vehicles littered the roadside.

Cabinet member Marwan Hamadeh, a pillar of the March 14 ruling coalition, warned Hezbollah and its allies the government would not back down in its conflict with the opposition and was taking its case to the U.N. Security Council.

Hamadeh says the Lebanese government is appealing to the Arab League and the United Nations to condemn both Iran and Hezbollah for undermining Lebanon's independence. He says the government will not back down on any of its demands, and will say 'enough, enough, enough."

The head of Lebanon's pro-government National Liberal Party, Dory Chamoun, argues that violence could get worse if Hezbollah does not realize where its policies are leading.

"Well, it could be something very dangerous, it could if they realize the mistakes that they are making, the Hezbollah people, it could probably calm down by tomorrow, but I doubt very much whether they haVe got that much acumen to realize how dangerous the situation has gotten," said Chamoun.

The latest clashes were sparked Tuesday after the government voted to fire the pro-Hezbollah security chief of Beirut Airport, General Wafiq Shuqair, amid reports that Hezbollah was using cameras to spy on the private jets of top leaders with possible plans to assassinate one of them.

Hezbollah insisted that the cameras were "needed to fight the Israeli enemy."

Speaking on the group's al Manar TV, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah insisted that the only way out of the current crisis is for the government to revoke its 'unfair and illegal' demands, which he says are part of a U.S.-Israeli strategy to destroy Hezbollah.

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