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Air of submission hangs over Beirut

An air of  submission hung over Beirut Monday as subdued Lebanese ventured into mostly empty streets. Pro-Hezbollah fighters appeared to be in charge, despite an army presence.
Image: Aftermath of violence around Beirut
Heavy fighting broke out between pro- and anti-government supporters in the area of Chouweifat, south of Beirut, on Sunday, sending echoes of gunfire and explosions rolling across the city. A store still smoldered on Monday.Bela Szandelszky / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An air of surrender and submission hung over Beirut Monday as subdued Lebanese ventured into mostly empty streets, still blocked by earthmounds and concrete after Hezbollah wrested control of Muslim West Beirut from government supporters.

Standing on street corners, pro-Hezbollah fighters, their guns now hidden from view, were a sharp reminder of who's really in charge, despite the deployment of Lebanese army troops.

Clashes in the surrounding mountains between Druse factions which claimed 16 lives the day before have also finally subsided, though fighting in the northern city of Tripoli wounded six people Monday.

With 54 confirmed dead since the fighting began Wednesday, this is the worst sectarian violence to wrack Lebanon since its 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

Beirut remains a crippled city
Even as the violence has abated, however, Beirut remains a crippled city riddled with roadblocks, suspicion and renewed fear between its ethnic and religious factions.

"They abandoned their cause against Israel and have come to kill us," said Wadad Abdel Nasser Shamaa, 27, a Sunni Muslim whose brother was killed when Hezbollah and its allies swept through western Beirut.

"During the July (2006) war with Israel we stood behind Hezbollah," the victim's uncle Mahmoud Lahham, 32, said bitterly.

Outside their home in Tarik Jadideh, a small black and white poster announced the death of Mohammed Khayr Abdel-Nasser Shamaa, bearing the words "betrayed martyr."

Once a sympathizer of Hassan Nasrallah, his father Abdel-Nasser Shamaa even had a picture of the Hezbollah leader pasted on his bedroom mirror.

But now, the 47-year-old Sunni Muslim vegetable vendor wants to know why his young son was killed when the Hezbollah bullets indiscriminately rained down on this predominantly Sunni neighborhood Thursday night.

Mohammed, 22, was visiting his parents when the fighting erupted and as he rushed out to be with his pregnant wife, he was cut down.

"Just as he walked out the door there was a burst of gunfire, several bullets hit our building," said his father.

The shooting was so heavy that the father had to crawl on the ground to move his son. "I was soaked in his blood," he said.

The Future movement of top Sunni leader Saad Hariri offered to pay for his son's burial or to wrap his coffin in its flag, but Shamaa refused.

Instead his son's coffin was wrapped in the Lebanese flag because Shamaa did not want to take sides and still respects both Nasrallah and Hariri.

"In the end we are both Muslims," he said, though he wished the Hezbollah had just told them they were planning to attack. "He should have warned us that they were going to storm our neighborhood so we could evacuate. We were with you," he said addressing Nasrallah.

"He's gone and no one can bring him back — not Nasrallah nor Hariri," said his wife, Sana Shamaa, 41. "I raised him for 22 years and he died with a bullet."

Violence explodes out of political deadlock
The recent unrest exploded out of a 17-month political deadlock between the pro-U.S. government and the Hezbollah-led opposition as each jockey for power.

When the government sacked an airport security chief with links to Hezbollah and declared the movement's private telecommunications network a threat to the state, the well-armed and highly organized militia responded.

Within days, Hezbollah and their allies swept through the city displacing pro-government gunmen, as the army just stood by.

Near a high sand barricade on the old Airport road, the gateway to the outside world for most Lebanese, a group of fighters sat in the shade on plastic chairs sipping black Arabic coffee from plastic cups. One of them, clearly a Hezbollah fighter was wearing a khaki cap and holding a walkie-talkie. Parked near them was a black SUV, its license plates covered with a cloth.

"We will stay here until the Sayed tells what to do," said one of the young men who identified himself only as Ali, a member of Hezbollah ally Amal Movement, referring to Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. "We have no idea what will happen next."