Christian-led army troops and pro-Syrian Muslim militiamen battled with tanks and artillery Saturday on the fifth consecutive day of sectarian fighting that has left at least 50 dead and 155 wounded, security sources said.
The latest flare-up came a day after a car bomb exploded in front of a crowded East Beirut bakery near the British Consulate, killing 15 people and wounding at least 140.
Security sources said army troops commanded by Gen. Michel Aoun fought Muslim militiamen led by pro-Syrian Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt around the army’s garrison at Souq el Gharb, 7 miles southeast of Beirut.
The two sides fired dozens of shells and rockets into each other’s positions using tanks, heavy artillery and mortars, the sources said.
Each side blamed the other for the renewed violence, which followed four days of fighting along the line that divides Beirut and its suburbs into Muslim and Christian sectors.
“The (Muslim) gunmen started the attacks, hitting our positions with two shells every minute,” an army source said.
A spokesman for the Druze-dominated Progressive Socialist Party said the army bombarded the nearby Druze village of Aley with artillery shells.
“Our forces hit a bulldozer for the army that was throwing up fortifications, setting it afire,” the militia spokesman said.
Aoun, in a speech Friday night, blamed the current wave of violence and the country’s long-running political stalemate on the “Syrian military occupation” and declared that Syria must withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
Besides serving as army commander, Aoun also heads the Christian military government in Beirut, one of two Cabinets competing for recognition.
Aoun was appointed premier last September by then-President Amin Gemayel after the Lebanese Parliament failed to elect his successor. The incumbent premier, Salim Hoss, a Muslim backed by Syria, refused to step aside, leaving the nation with the two competing governments and no president.
“Gen. Aoun’s talking about a war of liberation against the Syrians will only trigger war without reaping liberation,” Hoss said.