Friday, May 9, 2008
Political evolution in the Middle East
Lebanon's U.S.-backed government called gunbattles with Hezbollah militants in the street of Beirut "an armed and bloody coup" as it tried to rally support in the battle for control of the Mediterranean country. But the government continued to lose ground to Hezbollah fighters backed by Syria and Iran. Militants took control of the Muslim half of Beirut on Friday, the Reuters international news service reported. The outbreak of street violence comes after 17 months of deadlock between the anti-Syria ruling coalition and Hezbollah rebels that has paralyzed the government and left it without a president. At least 18 people have been killed and 38 injured in three days of fighting, Lebanon's worst internal unrest since the 1975-1990 civil war, Reuters said. The fighting erupted when the government tried to dismantle Hezbollah's military communications network. Hezbollah, which governs large swaths of Lebanese territory on its own and wants more say in the government, said the government had declared war. The United States has spoken with France, Saudi Arabia and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss options. Hezbollah kept its weapons after the civil war to fight Israeli forces occupying southern Lebanon at the time. Israel withdrew in 2000.