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Hezbollah to End Armed Presence in Beirut

  • Edward Yeranian

Hezbollah said it would withdraw all its fighters from the streets of Lebanon's capital, after Lebanon's army command said it would retain the pro-Hezbollah security chief at Beirut Airport, whose dismissal sparked this week's clashes between Hezbollah fighters and militias loyal to Lebanon's U.S.-backed government. The army statement followed a nationally televised address by the prime minister urging the army to restore order across the country. Ed Yeranian reports for VOA from Beirut.

The Lebanese army command said the airport security chief would remain in his post and that it would look into Hezbollah's controversial communications network. The latest clashes were sparked Tuesday after the government voted to fire the pro-Hezbollah security chief and declare the communications network illegal.

The army also called on all gunmen to withdraw from the streets.

The army statement followed a nationally televised address by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who demanded that Hezbollah "remove its fighters from the streets… and respect government institutions."

He accused Hezbollah of staging an armed coup and called on the army to restore order.

He called for dialogue, saying Hezbollah's defense should not be through arms, but through the agreement of all the Lebanese people and via the Lebanese government.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati begged all politicians to compromise. He said "Lebanon can only be governed through cooperation and entente between all parties."

Tensions and scattered violence persisted across parts of Lebanon Saturday, while a precarious calm prevailed in West Beirut. The acrid smell of smoke lingered over Beirut's Hamra district, scene of intense street fighting.

Lebanese Army tanks took up position in many Beirut neighborhoods, and appeared to be keeping order as Hezbollah fighters evacuated areas they had occupied Friday.

Abu Ziad Jarafeh, a former high school teacher in West Beirut predicted that the fighting was not over, because the Lebanese people had not learned the lessons of the past.

"It's a shame… this country is moving towards a minimum of twelve months of chaos… minimum… because there are (sic) no brains enough in this country," he said.

Meanwhile, Kuwait and other Arab countries evacuated their citizens from Lebanon via the northern coastal highway to Syria. The main Beirut-Damascus highway, as well as the road to Beirut Airport remain closed.

The Arab League is due to meet in Cairo Sunday to discuss developments in Lebanon.