Two killed in Lebanon in Hezbollah clash with Sunni group

BEIRUT, Mohamad Ali Harissi- Supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah group and a small Sunni outfit clashed in Lebanon's capital Beirut late Tuesday, leaving two people dead including a Hezbollah member, the army said.
The fighters used shoulder-launched rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns in about four hours of fighting that also left three people wounded, police said.

Hassan Nasr Alla
Hassan Nasr Alla
"A personal fight between a supporter of Hezbollah and another of Al-Ahbash erupted just after 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) in Beirut's Burj Abi Haidar neighbourhood and escalated into a firefight in which two men were killed, one of whom has been identified as a member of Hezbollah," an army spokesman said.
"The army has intervened and is trying to restore calm in the area," he said.
An AFP correspondent at the scene said eyewitnesses had identified the victim as Hezbollah official Mohammed Fawaz.
An official with the Al-Ahbash Sunni movement told local television the second victim was a member of his group.
Witnesses said the clash began as an argument between Fawaz and supporters of the Sunni group over a parking space near a mosque frequented by Al-Ahbash.
Gunfire and explosions could be heard as the fighting continued late into the evening in Burj Abi Haidar, an area in west Beirut considered a stronghold of parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri's Shiite Amal movement, which is allied with Hezbollah.
Troops cordoned off the area and fired warning shots into the air as several Red Cross ambulances arrived at the site of the clashes, AFP's correspondent said.
As the battle drew to an end, Hezbollah and Al-Ahbash issued a joint statement in which they said Tuesday's "regrettable incident was isolated and did not have any political or confessional bases."
Hezbollah, Lebanon's most powerful political and military force, is backed by Syria and Iran.
Al-Ahbash is also pro-Syrian and describes itself as a charitable organisation promoting Islamic culture.
The group landed a seat in parliament in 1992 amid a widespread boycott of elections. It lost the seat in 1996 but continued to exercise considerable influence over the country's politics.
Al-Ahbash first came to light in 1983 and gathered strength during the Syrian military presence in Lebanon, which ended under international pressure following the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.
The movement has lost considerable weight since.
The fighting took place as Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah addressed an all-women iftar, the meal which ends the daily dawn-to-dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Nasrallah made no mention of the incident.

Wednesday, August 25th 2010
Mohamad Ali Harissi

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