Author: ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY | AP
Tuesday 24 August 2010
Lebanese soldiers cordoned off the area and prevented journalists from entering, but the crackle of sniper fire and popping of rocket propelled grenades were still audible.
Witnesses said gunmen could be seen standing on the corners and peering down alleyways in the neighborhood while families ran for cover.
The shootout erupted between supporter of the Shiite Hezbollah and a Sunni conservative group in the mixed residential area of Bourj Abu Haidar near Beirut's downtown, security officials said.
Hezbollah was battling the pro-Syrian Sunni Muslim Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, known as the Al-Ahbash group, that has a history of feuding with the Shiite group, they added.
The officials said Mohammed Fawaz, a Hezbollah official from the area, and Fawaz Omeirat, of Al-Ahbash group, were killed in the fighting.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The fighting took place as Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah addressed supporters, calling for increased military assistance for the Lebanese army from its Arab neighbors.
It was the worst clash since May 2008, when Hezbollah gunmen swept through Sunni neighborhoods of Beirut after the pro-Western government tried to dismantle the group's telecommunications network.
The fighting at the time brought the country to the brink of a new civil war.
Lebanon has a history of deadly sectarian strife. Tensions have been running high in recent weeks over signs a UN
tribunal could indict Hezbollah in the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Nasrallah has said he has information that the tribunal will implicate Hezbollah members, but he says the tribunal is an "Israeli project" and has no credibility.