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Lebanese Adversaries to Meet Under Arab League Auspices

Arab League mediators have unveiled a new plan to bring an end to the crisis in Lebanon, where sectarian fighting over the last week left at least 65 people dead and more than 200 wounded. They say leaders of Lebanon's political factions will meet in Qatar Friday for a new round of negotiations aimed at producing a government of national unity. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Beirut.

After two days of intense negotiations with Lebanon's political leaders, Arab League mediators announced a six-point plan to end a week of sectarian fighting.

They said they were launching a new round of national dialogue in Doha on Friday, aimed at resolving Lebanon's long-running political crisis. Leaders or top officials of the country's main political factions are expected to attend.

Announcing the deal, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said all armed militants and roadblocks must be removed from the streets of Beirut.

He said both sides had agreed to refrain from using weapons or violence to achieve their political goals.

He also said all parties must immediately stop using inflammatory rhetoric to incite their followers against the other side.

Sheikh Hamad and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa led the delegation of Arab foreign ministers, which arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday. Hopes for a breakthrough were raised Wednesday evening when the cabinet reversed the two decisions cracking down on Hezbollah. Those decisions last week prompted the group's leader Hassan Nasrallah to send his fighters into the streets, sparking days of clashes.

In response to the Arab League announcement, Hezbollah said it and its allies would stop its civil disobedience campaign, which had continued after the violence subsided and the army took over most of the disputed areas.

Bulldozers almost immediately began clearing the piles of debris that had blocked the roads to Beirut's international airport and to the main border crossings into Syria. Less than an hour after the press conference wrapped up, a Middle East Airlines plane landed at the airport. It was the first commercial flight to arrive in a week.

But analysts warn that the Doha talks face high hurdles, and even the Arab mediators noted that the crisis cannot be solved overnight.

Sheikh Hamad was cautiously optimistic.

"We arrived yesterday, and between yesterday and today we have a comprehensive agreement between us shows that both parties are willing to open a new chapter because everybody knows that there is no winner in this conflict," he said. "I am optimistic, but it's very important that the Lebanese also help us to reach a conclusion in this."

The Arab League mediators say as soon as a new Lebanese president is elected, the opposition will end the sit-in outside the prime minister's office, which has turned central Beirut into a ghost town for the last year-and-a-half.

Sheikh Hamad said he expects that to happen "within days," but analysts warn that may be an overly optimistic prediction. Both sides agree that army chief Michel Suleiman should be the next president, but his election in parliament has been postponed repeatedly because they have not been able to agree on other issues, including the makeup of the next government.