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Deal Reached to End Fighting in Lebanon Standoff

BY Admin  May 15, 2008 at 2:40 PM EDT

Soldiers in Lebanon; file photo

“The opposition has decided to end the civil disobedience (campaign) and open all roads and routes to the seaport and airport,” Ali Hassan Khalil, an opposition member of parliament told Reuters.

Under the deal, both sides pledged not to use weapons to settle political differences and to end an armed presence in the streets. The fighting, considered the worst since the country’s civil war, claimed the lives of 81 people.

The conflict began on May 6, when the government accused Hezbollah, a Shiite group backed by Syria and Iran, of spying on the Beirut airport and fired the head of airport security, an official that was closely linked to the Hezbollah. The following day fighting broke out on the streets of Beirut, and 10 people were wounded when pro-government Sunni and Druze fighters clashed with gunmen.

On May 8, the government said it would dismantle Hezbollah’s private phone network, a move the group’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said was a declaration of war because the group’s communication is an essential part of its activities and weapons.

“We have said before that we will cut off the hand that targets the weapons of the resistance,” Nasrallah said.

Fighting escalated until the Lebanese cabinet announced on Wednesday that it would revoke the two decisions. The news was met with celebratory gunfire in the streets of Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Ghazi Aridi, Lebanon’s information minister said the cabinet’s reversal was, “in view of the higher national interest.”

The Arab League delegation that brokered the deal called on both sides to attend talks in Doha, Qatar on Friday to resolve the broader crisis between the government and Hezbollah-led opposition.

Power-sharing talks between Hezbollah and the U.S.-backed ruling coalition have paralyzed Lebanon for the past 18-months and left the country without a president since November 2007.

Hezbollah left the national unity coalition cabinet in 2006 after demanding enough cabinet posts to obtain veto power over government decisions and revisions to electoral law.

The current round of talks will continue in Qatar “until agreement is reached,” said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani on Thursday.