At least two people have been killed and at least 20 others wounded at a Beirut university campus in clashes between opposition and government supporters. The army declared a curfew in an effort to restore calm. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough reports from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.
Students said the violence started as a lunchtime fight in the cafeteria, but the quickly spread to the entire campus of Beirut Arab University, and then spilled over into the nearby streets.
Gangs of young men threw rocks and attacked each other with sticks. Later, some were seen firing automatic weapons. They smashed parked cars, or set them on fire along with piles of rubber tires. Clouds of black smoke rose into the sky as the violence continued.
Some people stood on rooftops and balconies, pelting the people below with stones. Some opposition supporters said they were being shot at from the rooftops, but those reports could not be verified.
The Lebanese army rolled in with armored vehicles, and shot into the air trying to keep the two sides apart. The army declared an overnight curfew to keep the unrest from spreading.
Volleys of gunfire could still be heard as the sun set, but the violence appeared to subside after darkness fell over the city. The office of a small pro-Syrian party near the campus was set on fire.
Beirut has not seen sectarian clashes like this since the end of the civil war in 1990. The fighting was mainly between Shi'ite supporters of Hezbollah and Sunni members of the Future Movement, led by Saad Hariri. Each side blamed the other for the violence.
Leaders of both groups called for calm. Hariri urged self-restraint from his supporters, while Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issued a fatwa, or religious decree, ordering his followers off the streets.
"Everybody should be committed to empty the streets, remain calm, restrain themselves and leave the stage to the Lebanese Army and security forces to bear full responsibility for controlling the current tense situation," he said.
Prime Minister Fuad Siniora was out of the country when the violence erupted, attending a donors conference in Paris where foreign governments pledged more than $7.6 billion in grants and loans to help Lebanon recover from war.
The country was still rebuilding from the 15-year civil war when conflict erupted in June between Israel and Hezbollah, which has its stronghold in southern Lebanon. Heavy bombardment damaged much of Lebanon's infrastructure and left scores of southern Shi'ite villages devastated or destroyed.
This is the second eruption of deadly violence since Tuesday, when the opposition, led by Hezbollah, called a general strike and blocked roads. Street battles with government supporters left three people dead.