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Violence escalates in Beirut -

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Violence escalates in Beirut

The World Today - Friday, 9 May , 2008 12:22:00

Reporter: Lindy Kerin

ELEANOR HALL: Lebanese officials say that at least seven people have been killed and scores have
been injured in fighting that has broken out in the Lebanese capital.

Pro-government groups and supporters of the opposition led by Hezbollah have been using
rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and machine guns as they clashed in several of Beirut's
mixed Sunni and Shiite neighbourhoods.

The violence erupted over the government's moves to shut down a Hezbollah communications network.

Lindy Kerin has our report.

(sound of gun fire)

LINDY KERIN: The clashes have taken place in densely populated areas of central and southern
Beirut. An official at the local hospital says at least 30 people have been wounded and are now
being treated.

The latest round of violence followed the government's decision to declare Hezbollah's
telecommunications network illegal.

The Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah described the government's move as a declaration of war.

HASSAN NASRALLAH (translated): This decision is first of all a declaration of war and the launching
of war by the government of Walid Jumblatt against the resistance, for the benefit of America and
Israel and on their behalf. We are not distorting this. It is as clear as the sun in the middle of
the day.

LINDY KERIN: In a news conference via video link from his hiding place, Hassan Nasrallah warned of
retaliation for attacks against his Shiite militant group:

HASSAN NASRALLAH (translated): Whoever declares war against us and who launches a war against us
even if he's our father or brother or just a political opponent, we have the right to confront him
to defend ourselves. To defend our weapons, to defend our resistance and to defend our existence.

LINDY KERIN: Hezbollah supporters blocked roads in the capital and kept the road to the
international airport closed for a second day.

The UN Security Council is calling for "calm and restraint", and is urging rival parties to stop
the wave of violence.

A top Shiite cleric Sheikh Abdul-Amir Kabalan called on the Lebanese to avoid what he called the
"the trap" of international intervention.

"I call on everybody to be on the level in this historic era and not to fall into the trap of
calling for international intervention, and not being a cheap tool for the enemy who is trying to
inflame a disturbance," he said.

Rami Khouri is editor-at-large for the Beirut Star newspaper. This morning he spoke to Radio
National

RAMI KHOURI: Both sides clearly are prepared to play a game of brinkmanship but neither side wants
to go over the brink and get back into full fledged war, and we heard the political leaders
tonight, both of them made statements, and they clearly are looking for a political mediation that
can get them out of this crisis, but both of them also said they're prepared to fight if they have
to.

So we have the typical Lebanese Arab way of showing your manhood and your willingness to fight, but
at the same time, showing that you are prepared to compromise and make a reasonable and honourable
deal.

LINDY KERIN: Professor Amin Saikal is the Director of the Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies at the
Australian National University

He says there is a risk the clashes in Lebanon could escalate into wider sectarian violence.

AMIN SAIKAL: It's very unlikely that Hezbollah will really give into the government's demands that
its publicity machine, particularly its TV and radio stations be put off the air, and Hezbollah is
most likely to resist that, because that is one of the most important instrument of propaganda and
publicity that Hezbollah has.

And also that is the way that Hezbollah basically keeps in touch with a lot of its supporters not
only inside Lebanon but outside Lebanon, but it's also very clear, that the government is
determined to do everything possible to weaken the position of Hezbollah.

So I think they've set the stage for a potentially dangerous confrontation. One way to really solve
the problem is for the two sides to agree to some mediation. Perhaps possibly from the Arab League
or some other outside forces, but that doesn't seem to be very much on the horizon at this point.

So I think the likelihood is that this conflict could possibly really grow, unless the two sides
realise the dangerous dimension of the whole thing, which could possibly engulf the whole of
Lebanon into another civil war and that case get some sort of compromise.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Professor Amin Saikal from the Australian National University, ending Lindy
Kerin's report.