Lebanon tense, Army seeks to chase off gunmen
Beirut: In a bid to restore calm, Lebanese Army troops in armoured vehicles are on the streets to force protesters with guns off roads.
There has been tension in the air ever since the killing of a senior intelligence official who opposed the Syrian involvement in Lebanon.
At least six people have been killed in the sectarian clashes so far, while a seventh died in gunshots fired by soldiers following an attack on their convoy.
Brig Gen Wissam al-Hassan was killed in Friday’s car bomb attack in Beirut and has triggered tensions, accusations and violence in the country between supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his opponents. Al-Hassan was solidly in the latter group, and his supporters, many of them Sunni Muslims, blamed Damascus for the killing, reports a news agency.
Many also called for the resignation of the Hezbollah-dominated government, saying it is too cozy with the Syrian regime.
In Washington, the State Department said it was worried about the violence in Lebanon and that the US was sending an FBI team to help investigate the bombing.
"We've been clear for some time about the possible spillover effect from the conflict in Syria," spokesman Mark Toner said on Monday.
The Army's security operation Monday sought to sweep from the streets gunmen who many here fear could end up dragging the country into the kind of sectarian clashes that have plagued Lebanon for decades.
"The nation is passing through a crucial and critical period and tension has risen in some areas to unprecedented levels," the Army said in a statement. It urged politicians to be careful not to incite violence "because the fate of the nation is on the edge".
"Security is a red line," the statement said, adding that strict measures are being taken to "prevent Lebanon from being an arena for settling regional problems".
Cracks of gunfire rang out in Beirut as soldiers took up positions on major thoroughfares and dismantled roadblocks of burning tires erected by angry youth. The state news agency reported sporadic gunfire in parts of Beirut and around the northern city of Tripoli.