Violence in Beirut

Violence in Lebanon
Courtesy al-Hayat

Update: CNN is reporting that the Lebanese military is reluctant to intervene in street fighting between pro-Hizbullah forces and supporters of the Seniora government. Aljazeera is also reporting that the Lebanese military has drawn back from flashpoints. It showed one clip of troops facing crowds of young men throwing stones, who were dispersed by tear gas. The overnight street fighting, which the Aljazeera correspondent said does not involve barricades but is rather fluid, was the worst seen in Beirut since the Civil War ended in 1989.

Hizbullah leader Nasrallah has just announced that he feels the Seniora government has declared war on his movement by denying them access to a network of electronic monitoring and surveillance based at the airport. (Apparently Hizbullah uses it for its struggle against Israel, but the government became concerned that they were also using it to track pro-government individuals).

A member of Saad Hariri’s government on Aljazeera just said that Hizbullah had the opportunity to help elect a president (Gen. Michel Suleiman) who could have participated in the decision-making and would have been more sympathetic to Hizbullah, but they instead played the role of spoiler. The Lebanese parliament has been unable to elect a president, who by the unwritten national pact has to be a Maronite Catholic, for the past few months.

The Bush administration has been arming the Seniora government and encouraging it to take on the Hizbullah militia, which it sees as a major site of Iranian influence in the region.

From several hours ago:

First, the General Confederation of Labour Unions (CGTL) in Lebanon called a strike to protest the failure of the government to agree to a substantial rise in the minimum monthly wage. Then the strike turned violent, as the Hizbullah joined in. People closed off roads and set out burning tires. The airport was badly affected, stranding 200 passengers. Aljazeera says that the airport is closed on Thursday Arab satellite channels were showing streets crowded with Lebanese army and police, with staccatto machine gun bursts in the background. About 10 people were lightly wounded.

It isn’t really clear what the relationship is between the labor unions and their strike for better wages, and the military confrontations with the strikers. [On Thursday pro-government forces said that Hizbullah had taken advantage of the strike to press its own agenda.]

I do know that on the other side, the Bush administration has worked hard to polarize Lebanese society and security, rather than working for a national unity government.

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