Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fighting rocks Beirut, five killed

By Nadim Ladki

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Fierce clashes raged in Beirut on Thursday after the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah said the U.S.-supported Lebanese government had declared war by targeting its communications network.

Security sources said the fighting killed at least five people and wounded 12.

The street confrontations have aggravated the worst internal crisis since the 1975-90 civil war and exacerbated sectarian tension between Sunni Muslims loyal to the government and Shi'ites who support the opposition.

The U.N. Security Council called for "calm and restraint", urging all sides to return to peaceful dialogue, while the White House urged Hezbollah to stop "disruptive" acts.

Fighters from Hezbollah and the allied Amal group exchanged assault rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades with pro-government gunmen in several areas of the capital in the worst domestic fighting since the civil war.

Security sources said Hezbollah gunmen overran at least three offices of the pro-government Future group. Many cars and shops were set on fire and scores of terrified civilians fled the hot spots.

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