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LEBANON: Scenes from a simmering war on Beirut's streets

May 7, 2008 |  1:17 pm

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RaedrafeiBy Raed Rafei in Beirut

He held his Kalashnikov into the air and started shooting.

Behind him, other men in military gear started shouting, ordering us to leave at once. They were members of one Shiite Lebanese faction, the Amal movement, allied with the Hezbollah-led opposition.

I had penetrated one peripheral street where armed clashes had erupted earlier between opposition supporters and followers of the Sunni Future movement.

I cautiously walked out, hearing behind me the rattling of machine guns and occasional rocket-propelled grenades.

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Petrified civilians, now and then, ran outside from one street to another to reach their homes, ducking their heads down for fear of being struck by a bullet.

Tens of tanks and hundreds of soldiers in anti-riot gear were stationed along the streets.

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A little while later, a spine-chilling silence dominated the mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods of Beirut.

These scenes triggered violent images of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, when Lebanese factions from various confessional groups fought fiercely.

Earlier I had witnessed agitated young followers of both camps tossing rocks at one another.

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On one side, there were Hezbollah and Amal supporters with black and white mufflers, usually worn by young Shiites, wrapped around their necks. And on the other, the Sunni supporters were roaming around on scooters or standing on foot. They occasionally hurled religious insults at one another.

Soldiers in fatigues tried to keep the situation from exploding. But the tension didn't seem to ease.

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These neighborhoods have been the scenes of frequent skirmishes for several months, mirroring the political deadlock in the country. I wonder how long officials will be able to prevent tensions from drawing Beirut into a deeper crisis.

Photos: Scenes from today's clashes in Beirut. Credit: Raed Rafei / For the Los Angeles Times

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the frictions between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

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