The Lebanese Army sent several armored personnel carriers and other
combat vehicles to the Beirut neighborhood of Burj Abi Haidar. But the
military presence has not quelled the violence, called the worst in the
Lebanese capital since a Hizbullah offensive in 2008.
The source said both Hizbullah and Al Ahbash, formally known as the
Sunni Muslim Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, fired heavy machine
and rocket-propelled grenades. Hizbullah fighters also attacked and torched
businesses linked to Al Ahbash. Al Ahbash was said to be receiving funds
from Saudi Arabia to help protect the Sunni community in Lebanon.
Burj Abi Haidar is a mixed neighborhood in which tensions have
long simmered between Sunnis and Hizbullah supporters. The latest fighting
was said to have been sparked by a fracas that quickly escalated into
gunfire and casualties.
In the first stage of fighting, a Hizbullah commander, identified as
Mohammed Fawaz, was killed by Al Ahbash gunfire. The word of the killing
brought hundreds of Hizbullah gunmen to Burj Abi Haidar. The
Shi'ite-dominated Lebanese Army sought to cordon the neighborhood but did
not intervene in the fighting.
This marked the first sectarian fighting since a crisis erupted between
Hizbullah and Prime Minister Said Hariri in August. A Lebanese tribunal has
linked Hizbullah to the assassination of Hariri's father, a former prime
in 2005. Hizbullah was said to have threatened to kill Said if the
investigation was not quelled.
Fawaz was identified as a regional Hizbullah commander in the Beirut
area. Witnesses said Fawaz had been arguing with an Al Ahbash operative over
a parking space in what led to the gun battle.
"The hostility is growing rapidly but this does not seem to yet reflect
a wider confrontation," a diplomat said.
Hizbullah has demanded that the Sunni killer of Fawaz be handed over to
authorities. At the same time, Defense Minister Elias Murr announced a ban
on unlicensed weapons in the country.
By Aug. 25, army commanders were seeking to impose a ceasefire amid the
threat that sectarian fighting would spread beyond Beirut. Al Ahbash said an
agreement, which included Hizbullah security chief Wafiq Safa, had been
reached by morning following a night of fighting.
"An agreement was reached with Hizbullah during a meeting at army
intelligence headquarters," Al Ahbash spokesman Abdul Kader Fakhani said.
"The army will open an investigation into the fighting."
During the clash, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah called
for the modernization of Lebanon's military to prepare for war with Israel.
Nasrallah said the Lebanese military needed Arab weapons more than money.
"All Arab countries say that they love Lebanon," Nasrallah said. "I
suggest that the government define the type of weapons [the army needs] and
tell Arab countries: 'We don't want money, We want weapons.' "