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The street clashes last night between Hezbollah and the radical Syrian-backed Al-Ahbash shook the Lebanese capital.

While Iranian and Syrian backed Hezbollah is Shiite , The Syrian backed Al-Ahbash is Sunni. They are known as : The Association of Islamic Charitable Projects (also known as Jam’iyyat al- Mashari’ al-Khayriyya al-Islamiyya) .

There were conflicting reports on how many were killed . Some reports said four people were killed and some said 2 , but several were wounded .

Among the fatalities were Mohammed Fawaz,  a senior Hezbollah official in the area, and Al Ahbash official  Ahmad Fawaz Omeirat, the son of a Beirut Mukhtar.

Other reports also said that Fawaz’s bodyguard Ali Jawad was also killed

This  was the worst clash since May 2008, when Hezbollah gunmen swept through Sunni neighborhoods of Beirut after a government crack down on the group’s telecommunications network.

There were conflicting accounts over how the clashes started

An army spokesman said after the fight erupted .

“A personal fight between a supporter of Hezbollah and another of Al-Ahbash erupted just after 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) in Beirut’s Burj Abi Haidar neighborhood and escalated into a firefight in which a supporter of Hezbollah was killed.” “The army has intervened and is trying to restore calm in the area,” he added.

An-Nahar newspaper on Wednesday quoted Ahbash sources as saying that unknown gunmen kidnapped a man from the Kalash family and his son from their house in Sawwan building in Borj Abi Haidar where fighting was concentrated.

Some reports on Wednesday said fighting erupted over a parking space between Fawaz, the Hezbollah official, and supporters Al-Ahbash near a mosque frequented by the Sunni group.

National News Agency said fighting renewed shortly after midnight, spreading to the nearby neighborhoods of Basta and Nweiri just blocks from downtown Beirut — normally packed with tourists at this time of year.

Al-Ahbash-affiliated Al-Diwan supermarket in Nweiri was set ablaze.

Lebanese troops cordoned off the area. And despite a ceasefire agreement reached during a midnight meeting between army officers, Hezbollah security chief Haj Wafiq Safa and an Ahbash official, the crackle of sniper fire and exploding rocket-propelled grenades could be heard well into the night.

Soldiers manning armored-personnel carriers were seen Wednesday morning positioned on key road intersections along the main Hamra thoroughfare and Corniche Mazraa in apparent effort to prevent clashes from spilling over to other parts of the city.

The fighting took place as Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addressed supporters, calling for increased military assistance for the Lebanese army from Iran and its Arab neighbors. He did not mention the incident during his live speech via a video link.

Defense Minister Elias Murr suspended permits for carrying firearms across all Lebanese areas. It is not clear how much effect such an order will have since Hezbollah is heavily armed and most of these arms are not subject to any permits.

Reactions to the clashes

Lebanese Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani rejected yesterday’s clashes saying: “The state is facing the biggest test to impose security in the Lebanese interior.”

March 14 MP Ammar Houri told Radio Orient: “The clashes between Hezbollah and al-Ahbash is in violation of the Doha settlement that rejects the use of arms.”

March 14 official Fares Souaid told VDL: “Beirut cannot remain in this situation. We know the reasons behind the tension. The state and the army should control the situation.”

March 14 MP Imad al-Hout told VDL: “We call for a weapons-free Beirut and for ISF to take charge.”

March 14 Minister Jean Oghassabian todl VDL: “Yesterday’s clashes have bad repercussions on the security situation in the country. We have already stressed that Beirut should be weapons free.”

An exploded RPG is seen in front of a mosque of Sunni Muslim Association of Islamic Charitable Project known as the Al-Ahbash group after clashes erupted  between them and supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah group, in Bourj Abu Haidar area near Beirut's downtown, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010
An exploded RPG is seen in front of a mosque of Sunni Muslim Association of Islamic Charitable Project known as the Al-Ahbash group after clashes erupted between them and supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah group, in Bourj Abu Haidar area near Beirut's downtown, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010
Lebanese soldiers patrol the area after clashes erupted between supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Sunni conservative Al-Ahbash group, in Bourj Abu Haidar area near Beirut's downtown, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
Lebanese civil defense workers carry an injured man that was hit in the clashes that erupted between supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Sunni conservative Al-Ahbash group, in Bourj Abu Haidar area near Beirut's downtown, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
A man, left, checks his shop damaged in the clashes that erupted between supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Sunni conservative Al-Ahbash group, in Bourj Abu Haidar area near Beirut's downtown, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
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