By Jim Quilty (May 20, 2008)
Middle East Report Online
The bloody clashes that broke out between opposition and government gunmen on May 7 have sparked fevered speculation as well. That Hizballah militants could take over West Beirut came as little surprise. Many were astonished by the speed of the advance, however, and the low number of casualties left in its wake, as the reports of 50-caliber machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, as well as small arms, reverberated in West Beirut for a second day. The pertinent question, then, is not “How could Hizballah do this?” but “Why did the Lebanese government choose to provoke Hizballah at this time?”
......."We are all (the) Resistance (Hizbu'llah)"
In a speech before a video-linked press conference that evening, Hizballah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah said the Siniora government’s decision to outlaw and dismantle the telecommunication network was effectively “a declaration of war...against the Resistance and its weapons for the benefit of America and Israel. The communications network is the significant part of the weapons of the Resistance. I said that we will cut off the hand that targets the weapons of the Resistance.… Today is the day to carry out this decision.” The opposition action would continue, Nasrallah said, until the government rescinded its ban on Hizballah’s security infrastructure.
In a speech televised soon afterward, Saad al-Hariri characterized opposition moves in West Beirut as “a crime that must stop immediately. We will not accept that Beirut kneel before anyone.” Hizballah, he continued, had “misinterpreted” the government decisions to probe the party’s private communications network and reassign Shuqayr. The measures, he said, were meant to protect the army and did not target Hizballah. He proposed ending the crisis by placing the two decisions in the hands of the army to implement or suspend.Would you buy a car from this man? Future Movement chieftain, Saudi citizen, and son of the late Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.
After the broadcasts, the West Beirut clashes changed complexion. By the next day Hizballah and Amal forces (and their allies in the SSNP) had taken control of West Beirut, having systematically taken out select Future Movement and affiliated offices and disarmed hundreds of Future Movement militants. Since the end of the 2006 war, and particularly since the current political crisis began 18 months ago, this nascent militia (mostly composed, it seems, of underemployed young Sunnis from West Beirut) had been amply supplied with arms and ammunition. Evidently there had been less emphasis on training: Anecdotes have emerged of amateur gunmen firing on non-combatants, lobbing RPGs into the sea or, more frequently, abandoning their positions without a fight. Hariri-owned media outlets -- al-Mustaqbal newspaper, Future Television and al-Sharq Radio -- were attacked (in some cases, ransacked), shuttered and handed over to the army. On the morning of May 9, SSNP and Amal gunmen set fire to the buildings.
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A poster of the leaders of the three largest and most influential political parties in the National Opposition coalition, from left: Michel Aoun (Free Patriotic Movement); Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah (Hizbu'llah); and Nabih Berri (Harakat AMAL).