Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New clashes hit Sunni neighborhood in Lebanese capital

New clashes hit Sunni neighborhood in Lebanese capital
By Rym Ghazal Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Renewed clashes erupted in Beirut late Monday after the body of an opposition supporter slain a day earlier was carried through the heart of the capital by his comrades. Witnesses said opposition demonstrators in Downtown Beirut - enraged at the site of one of their own being carried in a coffin through the crowds - ran toward mostly Sunni Tariq al-Jaddidah carrying sticks. A security source at the scene told The Daily Star that the demonstrators, mostly Shiite members of the Amal Movement to which the late Ahmed Ali Mahmoud, 20, belonged, began wrecking cars and shops in the neighborhood. Many residents, most of whom support late Premier Rafik Hariri and his son Saad, descended from their homes to fight with the demonstrators. As The Daily Star went to press, the security source said Internal Security Forces troopers had come between the two groups. He could not confirm any deaths or injuries. He added that the area, and surrounding neighborhoods, were under a security lockdown. Mahmoud was killed in clashes Sunday in the Sunni neighborhood of Qasqas between Hizbullah and pro-Hariri Future Movement supporters, which also left two other Shiite youth, identified only by their family names as Shouker and Hammi, in critical condition at hospital. Earlier in the evening, as Mahmoud's body was brought into Riad al-Solh Square, close to the Grand Serail, a voice blared over loudspeakers: "Our response to Mahmoud's killing is numbers!"

"Look!" the voice called out to Premier Fouad Siniora and his ministers, who have spent day and night inside the Serail since the assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel on November 21. "Our martyrs' blood will erase any feelings of anger and strife, and we will not react in violence as was hoped, but by heavier numbers of demonstrations until our demand is met." The army beefed up its presence around Beirut Monday after clashes the night before left at least 18 wounded and a nation fearful the incident would spiral out of control. Pleas for calm flooded in from politicians on both sides. Judicial sources told The Daily Star that security forces were searching for two persons believed to have been involved in setting fire to shops in Sabra Sunday and for the shooting of one of the youths in Qasqas. The sources added that three Syrians have been brought in for interrogation after witnesses said they saw two unidentified persons throwing rocks at opposition demonstrators as they headed to the protest. The army released a statement saying "several of the rioters" had been arrested. "The situation across Beirut and the country was acceptable, with minor incidents, but nothing like yesterday," the head of the ISF, Brigadier General Ashraf Rifi, told The Daily Star. "Of course we are preparing for the coming days, and we hope that things will calm down." In a statement, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, vice-president of Higher Shiite Council, called on security forces to "intensify their investigations to find the criminals" who instigated Sunday's conflict. "We need to remain united and focus on keeping peace and not be dragged into sectarian discord," he said. Reuters quoted security sources as saying the military had increased its forces in Sunni districts that Shiite protesters must drive through to get to central Beirut. Meanwhile, Army Commander General Michel Suleiman met with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir Monday to discuss the situation. No details were made public. In further condemnation of Sunday's clashes, a statement from the pro-government Lebanese Forces said: "Whatever our political stance on the demonstration ... we need to remain united and avoid violent clashes at any cost to protect civil peace." - With agencies

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