BEIRUT: The situation in the Beirut neighborhood of Burj Abi Haidar was calm on Wednesday afternoon, although Lebanese Army tanks and patrols could be seen across the capital throughout the day.
Bullet casings and broken glass covered Burj Abi Haidar streets the morning after deadly clashes, as shopkeepers swept rubble from stores and locals stayed indoors. Cars parked in the area were badly damaged.
Lebanese soldiers patrolled the neighborhood after deadly street battles between |Shiite Hizbullah and a small Sunni faction, the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, better known as Al-Ahbash.
The façade of the Burj Abi Haidar mosque was peppered with holes caused by bullets and grenades, and cleaning crews were sweeping the rubble.
Supporters of the movements used shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine-guns in four hours of fighting that erupted at about 7 pm Tuesday and left three people killed and at least 10 wounded.
The fighting was the worst clash in Beirut since May 2008, when Hizbullah gunmen swept through west Beirut after the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora tried to dismantle the group’s private telecommunications network.
More than 80 people were killed in the 2008 violence, pushing the country to the brink of civil war. But officials insisted Tuesday’s clash was not the same sectarian strife that has bedeviled Lebanon for decades.
The Lebanese press expressed surprise on Wednesday that the latest round of violence pitted supporters of two groups with similar political views against each other.
“The use of medium-range weapons in religious centers, shops and homes shows that the pot is ready to boil over at any moment, even if the incident was described as personal,” warned An-Nahar newspaper, close to the parliamentary majority.
Hizbullah, Lebanon’s most powerful political and military force, is an ally to Syria and Iran.
Al-Ahbash emerged in 1983 and gathered strength during Syria’s military deployment in Lebanon, which ended after the 2005 murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Al-Ahbash is a deeply conservative Muslim group and a rival to many other Sunni groups in the country, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement.
The group rose to prominence in the wake of the Rafik Hariri assassination. Two senior officials from the group were detained for about four years on suspicion of involvement in the killing, but were later released. Like Hizbullah, Al-Ahbash is pro-Syrian. They have feuded over theological differences but were political allies whose candidates ran on the same lists during the 2009 parliamentary elections.