Beirut Ramping Up

Irina Prentice writes from Beirut:

Beirut Ramping Up

Yesterday afternoon the political fight came to a head, turning to armed conflict throughout key neighborhoods in Beirut. Loud explosions, automatic machine gun fire, rocket propelled grenade, and pistol shots resounded throughout the night.

The fight moved from a vicinity of half a kilometer from . . . Sodeco around 5pm, outwards throughout the city. In the middle of the night, the sound was drowned out by a thunder storm which unexpectedly set in as quickly as the fight which broke out.

Although, the sky was clear in the day, and the temperature cool, the unusual storm caught many of the inhabitants off guard. The loud thunder drowned out the explosions, the downpour took over and things seem to quiet down until 5 this morning.

“Things were quiet in the neighborhood until about 5 and then it went off”, explains an AUB student living in the neighborhood of Hamra.

A foreign journalist living in Hamra explained that clashes have been ongoing since this morning, and the streets have reportedly come under control of the members of the opposition forces Hezbollah and Amal militia despite ongoing exchange of gunfire being resounding throughout the neighborhood.

Television pictures this morning reveal and predominantly deserted Beirut. Shops are closed, no cars on the street. Damage so far: bullet holes in cars, shattered shop fronts, freshly pockmarked buildings, and some smoke out of Hariri’s Moustaqbal Newspaper headquarters.

Reports of dead are varying between 7 and 15, but a tally will probably be difficult to track unless the fighting factions announce the numbers.

The city yesterday was at 60% blocked, making moving between neighborhoods very difficult. The percentage today is rising although there are no firm numbers. Moving between East and West Beirut has become even more difficult as announcement of the sea road being cut off by opposition Amal forces.

At 3pm yesterday . . . [a] political advisor . . . received a call in the car announcing the opposition’s plan to besiege the government seat in the Serrail. This morning, this unconfirmed rumor seems to be becoming a reality, as reports are saying the Serrail is surrounding by opposition forces. Unconfirmed reports are saying that the security forces of the Serrail have handed over their weapons, who knows.

On a wider scale, there are reports of fighting in the northern city of Tripoli as well as fighting in the Bekaa valley.

Although the fight which has broken out is predominantly political, it is difficult to separate the sectarian aspect of the conflict whereby so far the greatest clashes are occurring between Sunni and Shia groups. Despite the political wording in both Nasrallah’s and Hariri’s, the undertone was such that if you are not with us you are against us, and so bring it on… The night clashes echoed the stances.

Also, something to track is the wider regional Arab response. Depending on today’s local political positions and regional positions may help the picture of what is to come.

WHAT LED TO THE PRESENT CRISIS:

In the beginning of the week, the Lebanese government removed the head of security from the airport, a government employee who was a supporter of the opposition was sacked, and Hezbollah controlled surveillance cameras were removed from the airport. The impact of the decision has been explosive, yesterday Nasrallah explained in his speech that the decision should be revoked and that anyone tampering with their surveillance system was essentially acting for the benefit of Israel.

The Hariri well, I don’t have it under hand, however it would seem that this morning’s results mean that what televised offer he made, it was rejected.

SIDE LINE:

ONE NON-OFFICIAL REPORT Describing a TACTIC on the ground

A pro-opposition source called to explained that the tactic on the ground is to take control of key neighborhoods and news outlets of the various loyalist/ or pro-government factions. From here on, it is a matter of time before government seat will fall.

German-speaking readers will also be interested in her piece in Der Spiegel.

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