BEIRUT, 12 May (IRIN) - Sporadic clashes between pro- and anti-government forces continued on 12 May in areas around the northern port city of Tripoli and the eastern Bekaa Valley as the Arab League announced mediators would arrive in Beirut on 14 May.
A security official reported Shia Hizballah gunmen had clashed with supporters of the government around Masnaa, the main border crossing into Syria in the Bekaa valley, a stronghold of the Iranian-backed militant group.
A fragile cease-fire between rival groups in Tripoli broke down on the morning of 12 May as fighting erupted between followers of Sunni parliamentary leader Saad Hariri and Alawi opposition supporters based in the Mohsen mountain north of Tripoli. The clashes spread to Minyeh, also just north of Tripoli, but calm was restored after the army deployed.
Since the violence erupted on 8 May with the take-over of west Beirut by Hizballah and its allies, many international aid agencies have been unable to continue working at full capacity, increasing their security warning levels and asking staff to remain at home.
Both the Norwegian Refugee Council and the UN Palestinian relief agency have reported staff movements restricted by road blocks or the threat of violence.
The International Committee of the Red Cross urged those involved in the armed conflict to spare the lives of innocents and facilitate evacuation of the wounded. Spokesperson Virginia de la Guardia said the agency was prepared with food and water if the situation deteriorated quickly.
Hizballah and pro-government Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) engaged in kidnappings during clashes, with Hizballah accusing the PSP of executing two of its members whose bodies were dumped outside a hospital in Aley on 10 May.
With the airport largely closed for a sixth day on 12 May and the opposition continuing its civil disobedience campaign that has closed major roads into the capital, shoppers in Beirut took advantage of the tense calm to stock up on provisions from supermarkets slowly running out of produce.
Arab foreign ministers, who urged an immediate ceasefire and criticized Hizballah’s use of weapons internally, said on 12 May they would send a delegation headed by Qatar, which boosted its relations with Hizballah in the aftermath of the Shia group’s month-long war with Israel in July 2006.
“The landscape may have changed and the balance of power tilted in one direction,” said Mohammed Shattah, senior adviser to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, returning from the 12 May Arab League meeting in Cairo. “But the underlying situation is that no one group can really control the country for any extended period of time.”
Shattah said the issue of Hizballah’s relation to the state as an armed group would be central to the Arab mediation effort.
Meanwhile, Hizballah consolidated its take-over of strategic areas of pro-government Druze-majority Mount Lebanon, capturing the southerly Chouf village of Niha, a high-point affording views across the coastal plain to Beirut to the west, and backing onto the Bekaa valley in the east.
The army later deployed in the area, but local residents remained anxious of a return to the fierce fire-fights between Hizballah and militants loyal to the pro-government Druze leader Jumblatt’s PSP.
“If Hizballah come into the villages they won’t leave alive,” vowed PSP supporter Hani Ghannam, a resident of the Chouf village of Dmit. Christian areas of Beirut have remained calm, despite the alliance of key Christian leader Michel Aoun with Hizballah, while fellow Maronite Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces support the government.
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