Shia Muslims Battle 3rd Day; 13 Die, 39 Hurt : High Iranian Official to Try to Bring Peace
Rival Shia Muslim factions fought with grenades in Beirut and rockets in southern Lebanon’s shattered apple orchards Monday, the third day of their latest battle in a sporadic war that began nine months ago.
Police said eight people were killed and 25 wounded in the Shia slums of southern Beirut, and five were slain and 14 wounded in fighting near Israel’s “security zone” along the border.
Muslim-controlled Voice of the Nation radio said Iran is sending Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Larijani to negotiate peace between Amal, a Shia militia backed by Syria, and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, which has tried to expand its Beirut power base into southern Lebanon. The report gave no details.
Twenty people have been killed and 47 wounded since the fighting began Saturday, a police spokesman said.
Syrian peacekeeping troops called a “total and comprehensive” cease-fire at midday, but it collapsed four hours later.
A Syrian officer said Hezbollah was responsible for violating the truce.
Bulldozers demolished sandbag barricades and earth mounds set up by both sides along a stretch of the Beirut slums along the highway to the international airport.
Hezbollah fighters in black headbands hurled grenades in a charge backed by mortar fire and overran a police station in Beirut’s Ghobeiri district, the spokesman said.
Amal militiamen responded with heavy fire from tanks stationed in nearby woods as a dozen policemen sprinted to safety under heavy rain, the spokesman added.
The explosions lit the night sky above the suburbs, home to about 500,000 impoverished Shias.
“Several fires are raging in the suburbs. Columns of smoke rising above the area can be seen from my house,” said one resident of a section of Christian East Beirut that overlooks the area.
Ambulances and rescue teams could not reach the scene of the fighting, and there were no immediate casualty reports.
The police spokesman said the two sides were locked in house-to-house fighting in Ghobeiri and the neighboring district of Haret Hreik.
Amal, a mainstream militia, and the fundamentalist Hezbollah (Party of God) are struggling for dominance of Lebanon’s 1 million Shias, the largest sect in the country.
Each accuses the other of starting the latest battle, their most intense since November, when 40 people were killed and 87 were wounded during six days of fighting in Beirut.
Living in Basements
Police said thousands of residents had been living in basements and bomb shelters since New Year’s Eve.
Several Beirut radio stations said Syria plans to review its deployment of 4,500 soldiers in the slums to “improve their performance and prevent further fighting.”
Syria is Lebanon’s main power broker and has about 40,000 soldiers in the country, including at least 7,500 in the Muslim sectors of Beirut. It first sent troops into the 16 square miles of southern Beirut slums in May, after a three-week battle between Amal and Hezbollah in which 300 people were killed and 1,000 wounded.
In southern Lebanon, the current fighting is the most serious between Amal and Hezbollah since four days in April, when 62 were killed and 150 wounded.