Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hezbollah Leaves West Beirut After Beating Government Challenge

By Daniel Williams

May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Hezbollah, Lebanon's powerful Shiite Muslim party and militia, handed sections of Beirut to the Lebanese army after forcing pro-Western Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to abandon efforts to curb its military activities.

Hezbollah and its allied gunmen still remained in side streets in the central Hamra district of downtown Beirut today. Dirt and debris barricades blocked roads; traffic throughout the city was light, according to the Naharnet Internet news site.

Calm returned a day after Siniora placed the implementation of two government decisions in the army's hands: to shut down Hezbollah's electronic surveillance operation at Beirut's international airport and a vast land-line telephone network. The military, in a statement, overturned the government's plans. It reinstated the head of airport security fired over the existence of the spy system and left the phone lines under Hezbollah's control.

``This was probably an inevitable moment, when Hezbollah felt it had to show the government the real balance of power between them,'' Rami Khoury, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, wrote in Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper.

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