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Muslim-Christian Artillery Duels Force Thousands to Flee Beirut

From Reuters

Thousands of residents fled Beirut on Tuesday as rival Muslim and Christian gunners rained shells on the embattled capital. The Arab League appealed for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting.

Cars piled with bedding and belongings headed from both Muslim and Christian sectors for villages in remote areas after two weeks of fighting that has killed at least 79 people and wounded more than 250.

The fighting erupted two weeks ago when Christian Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun, who heads a military administration vying for power with a mainly Muslim cabinet backed by Syria, set out to blockade illegal ports that provide feuding militias with a major source of income.

Aoun also vowed to drive Syrian forces from the country--even if Beirut is flattened.

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Early today, Aoun announced his acceptance of a cease-fire. Only sporadic shelling was reported after Aoun’s statement was broadcast.

The statement said the truce was aimed at giving an Arab League committee a chance to negotiate an end to Lebanon’s crisis.

The violence has devastated wide areas in Beirut’s Christian and Muslim sectors, Christian and Druze towns in mountains overlooking the city and the eastern Bekaa Valley.

Security sources estimated that 17,000 artillery shells have hit residential areas of Beirut during the last five days.

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Christian radio stations said shells pounded hilltop areas where the American, French and Belgian embassies are located Tuesday. It was not known whether the Western missions were hit.

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Tunisia appealed Tuesday for a truce and asked the combatants to help mediators settle Lebanon’s constitutional crisis.

“The Arab League Council called on the parties . . . to stop fighting immediately and without hesitation,” said a statement.


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