Monday, December 04, 2006

At least 1 killed as violence breaks out across Beirut

At least 1 killed as violence breaks out across Beirut
Both sides lose control of supporters

By Leila Hatoum Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: A series of tit-for-tat clashes broke out across the Lebanese capital Sunday, resulting in the death of one youth as both opposition and pro-government parties lost control over their supporters. Following months of escalating political tension and three days of opposition protests, a major clash erupted in Qasqas, a predominantly Sunni area in Beirut, police officials said. Ahmed Ali Mahmoud, 20 and believed to be a supporter of the Amal Movement, was shot during the Qasqas incident. It was not clear where the gunfire came from, the officials said. He died before reaching hospital. The clash started when a group of Hizbullah supporters were returning from central Beirut's and passed through the neighborhood, heavy with late Premier Rafik Hariri's Future Movement supporters. A high-ranking Lebanese Army said the two sides threw stones at each other before shots were fired. Four other people were hurt in the clash. The official said the army "intervened to stop the clashes from escalating." As per stories told from both sides, convoys of cars and mopeds from both the opposition and pro-government parties had been provoking each other throughout the day.

In other clashes Sunday night, one person was shot and a few injured in the Bourj Abi Haidar area. A few streets away, in Barbour, another person was arrested in a shooting incident. An attempt was made to block the old road leading to Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport with burning tires. Some roads outside Beirut were also blocked, including in Naameh, and soldiers "resorted to firing in the air to open it," a source from the army told The Daily Star.

Premier Fouad Siniora contacted his allies, the Internal Security Forces and Speaker Nabih Berri, to try and control the situation. Hizbullah also told its allies - the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Marada Party - to control their supporters. Officials from Future, Hizbullah, Amal, the Lebanese Forces and the FPM told The Daily Star that they had given their supporters clear guidelines not to engage in provocations or respond to them. Future leader MP Saad Hariri called upon his supporters and his allies to "maintain calm and refrain from responding to any provocation attempts, whatever its form." Hariri called on "all Future Movement supporters ... to be careful of sedition and take care of infiltrators. I call upon them to cooperate with the security personnel and the Lebanese Army ... You are asked not to make a move without a clear decision from the leadership of the Future Movement ... which is cooperating in this regard with its allies from the March 14 Forces."

Yet calls for calm didn't prevent the shooting of Amin Itani, an ISF member. During the Bourj Abi-Haidar clash, Itani was shot in the neck after "suspected Amal supporters, who wanted to close down his father's offices supporting the Future Movement, fought with him and his father," a witness said. The witness, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the men were "not from the area but they are known to be Amal supporters." But an Amal official denied the claim, saying opposition supporters were being provoked. The official added that the person arrested by the army in the shooting incident in Barbour "is Imad Fatha, the head of the Future Movement in the area." The Future Movement said it could not confirm that charge.

Earlier, Christian opposition members formed a tide of (FPM) orange and (Marada) green as they flocked to Downtown Beirut's St. George Church to attend Sunday Mass. The colorful move was a response to reports by pro-government media that few Christians were actually taking part in the protest. Former Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh, who heads Marada, addressed the crowd in Beirut, accusing the government of being responsible for Lebanon's economic problems.

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