LEBANON: Violence breaks out in day of rage over Hezbollah coup

Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah will now be in charge of a place once known as the Paris of the Middle East. Forget about those bikini-clad Lebanese women.

ABC NEWS Hezbollah group took control of the Muslim half of Beirut in what the US-backed governing Coalition described as “an armed and bloody coup.” (Can the Christian half be far behind?)

At least 15 people have been killed and 34 wounded in three days of battles between pro-government gunmen and fighters loyal to Hezbollah, a Shiite political movement which has a powerful guerrilla army and is an ally of Syria.

The fighting, the worst internal strife since the 1975-90 civil war, began this week after the Government decided to dismantle Hezbollah’s military communications network.

The group said the Government had declared war.

In scenes reminiscent of the darkest days of the civil war, young men with assault rifles roamed the streets amid smashed cars and smouldering buildings.

Fighting died down as outgunned Government supporters handed over their weapons and offices to the army, which has tried to remain neutral during 17 months of political conflict between the Hezbollah-led Opposition and the Government.

The anti-Syria governing Coalition condemned the “armed and bloody coup”, saying it was aimed at increasing Iran’s influence and restoring that of Syria, forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in 2005.