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Fighting Subsides in Lebanon

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's go next to a scene of manmade suffering. Lebanon is finally relatively quiet after five days of fighting. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports the violence killed dozens but resolved nothing.

PETER KENYON: Many Beirut residents spent their Sunday indoors, listening to the thud and distant boom of rockets landing in the hills above the city. Hezbollah fighters had moved into pro-government Druze villages after allegations that forces loyal to Druze leader Walid Jumblatt had killed two Hezbollah supporters.

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As with virtually all the clashes so far, pro-government forces quickly called for a ceasefire. By mid-morning today, sporadic small arms fire was still being heard. So far, the army has remained neutral in the clashes between Lebanon's Western-backed government and the opposition Hezbollah movement, which is supported by Syria and Iran.

But the military managed to bring calm only after announcing that it would overturn two recent government moves. The sacking of the pro-Hezbollah security chief at the airport, and the launching of a probe into Hezbollah's private communications network. Those moves had prompted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nashrallah to launch the violence that began Wednesday.

Perhaps stung by the ease with which the Shiite Hezbollah fighters had seized much of the capital on Friday, outlying areas controlled by the government saw angry young Sunni men setting up impromptu roadblocks and questioning passing drivers, looking for Shiites in the cars.

This kind of aggressively sectarian behavior sent a chill through many people here - those who lived through Lebanon's 15-year civil war in the 1970s and 80s. Economically, the violence has been damaging. The airport and seaport remain closed, and border crossings to Syria were shut to vehicle traffic, with people carrying their belongings across on foot.

Several countries with significant numbers of foreign nationals here are drawing up evacuation plans. Politically, officials say the cabinet will meet, and the Arab League may send a delegation to Beirut. Analysts say neither group is likely to come up with a resolution to the impasse that has left Lebanon without a president since November.

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If, as some suggest, these clashes were the latest proxy fight between Iran and the U.S., many people here are scoring another round for Tehran.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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