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 'War has started,' Hezbollah leader says

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PostSubject: 'War has started,' Hezbollah leader says   Thu May 08, 2008 11:49 am

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Gunfire broke out in downtown Beirut Thursday after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said recent government actions amount to "a declaration of open war."

"Just in the past few minutes ... things have gotten a lot worse," CNN's Cal Perry reported from downtown Beirut. The sound of automatic gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades could be heard throughout his live reports.

Perry, who took cover with the Lebanese army, said government forces have not yet reacted to the violence.

The gunbattles were taking place between Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods in the capital, near CNN's Beirut Bureau.

The Lebanese army, which is charged with trying to keep peace in the capital, is in a precarious position, Perry explained.

"When you're talking about this much gunfire, when you're talking about RPG fire, it's absolutely ludicrous to think that the army will put themselves between these two factions," he said.

Video of the scene showed tanks and armored personnel carriers moving through empty streets past shuttered stores.

The violence erupted shortly after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the government's attempts to halt Hezbollah's use of a telecommunications system amounts to "a declaration of open war."

"We believe the war has started and we believe that we have the right to defend ourselves," Nasrallah said in a televised speech. "We will cut the hand that will reach out to the weapons of the resistance no matter if it comes from the inside or the outside."

At the same time, Nasrallah called for dialogue, saying, "We are ready, whoever wants a compromise, we are here and ready."

"Those who have taken decisions leading to war, let them withdraw their decisions and there would be no war," he said.

"Am I declaring war? Not at all. I am declaring oppression and self-defense."

Lebanese Communications Minister Marwan Hamadi said Nasrallah's speech "is a direct threat of assassinating us."

"We are not scared of the threat," Hamadi told al-Arabiya. " 'Cutting off the hands' is a direct threat of assassination.

"He says it is a new phase; we say it is a new phase, too. We are determined to keep what is left of the Lebanese government."

Many Lebanese politicians who have opposed Syria's influence in their country have been assassinated in recent years, including former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and four members of parliament.

The latest tensions between Lebanon's U.S.-backed government and Hezbollah were sparked Monday when the government sacked airport security chief Brig. Gen. Wafik Shoukeir.

The government believes Hezbollah was using the equipment to keep tabs on the movement of its opponents in the government.

Nasrallah defended Hezbollah's use of the monitoring equipment, saying it is the right of "any militia during war."

"This wired network is the most important weapon in the battle," he said.

Nasrallah accused the government of trying to make the Beirut airport "a base for the CIA, FBI and the Mossad," the Israeli secret police.

"That's why they wanted to suspend Brig. Gen. Wafik Shoukeir. ... They want to bring a loyal subject that will serve them at the airport."

In a rare display of anger toward Hezbollah, the highest Sunni Muslim spiritual authority in Lebanon accused the group of taking advantage of a labor strike on Wednesday by using it as a political opportunity, and of fomenting violence in Beirut.

The strike quickly escalated into a flashpoint over Lebanon's 17-month-old political crisis.

Hezbollah supporters continue to block all the roads leading to Beirut's airport, forcing the cancellation of nearly all flights.

Gunbattles were reported Thursday in Beirut's seaport district of Corniche al-Mazraa. Tires continued to burn in Beirut, particularly in the downtown area, where a Hezbollah sit-in continues around the government buildings.

There were reports of clashes and gunfire in the Bekaa Valley overnight and Thursday morning.

Clashes in Beirut on Wednesday took on a sectarian tone, between Beirut's Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods.

Hezbollah is a Shiite militant group, backed by Syria and Iran, with political representation in Lebanon's government.

Members of Lebanon's other major Shiite party, Amal, also participated in Wednesday's strike.

Lebanon's political crisis began in late 2006, when Hezbollah pulled several ministers out of the government of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in an effort to destabilize his government.

The move happened as Siniora's government voted to support an international tribunal to investigate the 2005 killing of Hariri, which U.N. investigators have linked to Syria.

The country has been without a president since Emile Lahoud -- who was pro-Syrian -- left office after his term ended in November and parliament was unable to agree on a replacement.

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PostSubject: Re: 'War has started,' Hezbollah leader says   Thu May 08, 2008 9:29 pm

Damn it's just getting worse and worse...

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PostSubject: Re: 'War has started,' Hezbollah leader says   Thu May 08, 2008 10:41 pm

I know... it's never ending!!!

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