Cautious calm retuns to Mount Lebanon, as army deploys

May 12th, 2008 - 4:56 am ICT by admin  

Choufayet (Lebanon), May 12 (DPA) A cautious calm prevailed Sunday night in Mount Lebanon following fierce clashes between followers of the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and opposition followers. A ceasefire was under way and the Lebanese army was setting up checkpoints, an army source on the ground said.

“I have been in contact with Walid Jumblatt and we agreed that his fighters will hand over their weapons to Lebanese army,” said Talal Arslan, an opposition Druze leader said.

The overall situation in Lebanon had eased after army soldiers were sent into the second-largest city, where overnight there had been heavy fighting in two areas, Bab al-Tabbneh and Jabal Mohsen.

Beirut saw a relative calm returned after four days of fierce sectarian fighting between mainly Sunni supporters of the ruling majority and Shia opposition militias.

No armed elements could be seen on the streets early Sunday, but some barricades erected by militants remained and the airport road was shut for the fifth consecutive day.

But in the Mount Lebanon area, fierce fighting erupted earlier in the day in once peaceful areas controlled by followers of Jumblatt southeast of the capital, where two Shia villages are surrounded mainly by Druze areas.

“For years we have lived together and not one day we fought each other,” said Houssam Aridi, a Druze villager from the village of Baysour.

But Sunday, rivals exchanged machinegun fire and mortar shells for about five hours, prompting Jumblatt to appear twice on television to call on his followers to “contain themselves”.

Jumblatt also called on Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah to keep the Druze community away from any political settlements. “We can settle our political differences face to face and not through the people,” Jumblatt said.

Convoys of army tanks had entered the village of Choufeiyat and areas where there were heavy clashes, and they were now calm, an army source said.

Residents in Choufayet said the clashes started when Hezbollah militants tried to infiltrate their areas.

Meanwhile, Druze sheikhs gathered in a holy shrine in the village of Abey to issue a statement calling on the Druze men to stay away from any civil strife.

According to hospital sources, five people were killed, two in the fighting and around 10 people were wounded.

Druze Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said the situation was “very, very dangerous and we have to stop this bloodbath before it gets out of hand.”

Aridi, who hails from a village near the scene of the clashes, said his house in Baysour was hit while his family was inside, but escaped unharmed.

Earlier Sunday, seventeen people were reported dead when heavy fighting broke out at dawn between pro- and anti-government supporters in northern Lebanon.

The death toll in the fighting that started in the capital Wednesday between followers loyal to the ruling majority and Hezbollah, has risen to a total 44 of killed and 162 wounded.

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