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French Version

Druze areas in shock after deadly clashes

The young mother stood aghast in the apartment which reeked of cordite, its walls blackened, windows shattered and furniture reduced to ashes after a wave of violence swept through Druze mountain villages southeast of Beirut.

Shell-shocked residents of the area were still reeling on Monday after the clashes pitting opposition Shiite fighters against armed Druze supporters of the Lebanese government that left at least 13 dead.

"We're still numb from the horror of what we went through" Sunday, said Nada, 49, who said she had to hide under a stairwell for four hours as firefights raged outside her home.

Sheikh Abdallah al-Khishn, a local official in the town of Choueifat, referred ironically to the Shiite Hizbullah movement insisting that its mighty arsenal was intended for the resistance against Israel.

"I guess they got lost on their way to Tel Aviv but we will forgive them," he said.

The latest violence was sparked by a government crackdown against Hizbullah's communications system which the group's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, described as amounting to a declaration of war.

In all, the worst unrest since the 1975-1990 Civil War has left at least 59 people dead and nearly 200 wounded, and raised the stakes in a protracted political crisis.

On Monday few people ventured on to the streets of Choueifat, with burned-out cars by the side of the road and buildings pockmarked by bullet strikes. Some had gaping holes in them from rocket blasts.

In some houses, photographs of pro-government Druze leader Walid Jumblatt had been slashed with knives by opposition gunmen.

Nivine Naeem said a rocket blasted through her home as her terrified 5-year-old daughter cowered under her bed.

"We didn't know what to do. What could I tell my daughter?" about what was happening, she said. "Do you see Jews here? Is Hassan Nasrallah trying to free the Shebaa Farms from here?" she asked, referring to an area of South Lebanon still occupied by Israel.

She spoke to AFP as she surveyed the destruction in the apartment above her own. This was where a relative, 65-year-old Hassib Naeem, lives.

"How can we ever again believe their weapons are meant for our protection?" asked the 28-year-old.

Soon after the clashes began on Sunday, Jumblatt urged his supporters to end the fighting and allow the army to take over security in the area. "Civil peace and halting the destruction are paramount," Jumblatt told Lebanese television.

Firas, a 28-year-old resident of Choueifat said: "We only had our own personal weapons. They were shooting M-16s and rockets at us. All we had was guns. What could we do?"

Alaa, 55, lives in the Druze village of Baysur, the scene of clashes with fighters who arrived from the nearby Shiite village of Kayfun late on Sunday.

Alaa said he doubted that villagers from Kayfun had taken part in the fighting.

"We have a history of good relations with them. We even know each others' grandparents," he said. "A few even came over to attend a funeral the other day."

In nearby Kayfun, the reaction was similar.

"We will go back to Baysur," said Ali Jaber, 57. "We have been neighbors for a long time. We just need things to calm down.

"It's in the hands of the government. It needs to resign or rescind its decisions. It's the only way," he added.

Beirut 13-05-2008
The Daily Star

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