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Lebanese Army steps into Beirut fray

Opposition Hezbollah fighters continue civil disobedience against pro-Western government.

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"They have won. Iran has taken over a Mediterranean state," says a senior Future Movement official who requested anonymity. The source conceded that the government's decisions had probably been a "miscalculation," but Lebanon's future depended heavily on the response of the international community.

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"If there is no reaction from the international community to restore the balance and show the world that Iran cannot do as it pleases and have a democracy raped and an Arab capital invaded then sooner or later we will have to capitulate to [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah," says the Future Movement official.

Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo Sunday to discuss the crisis, but there has been little reaction from the international community other than condemnations of the violence.

"The US and the Saudis [backers of the Lebanese government] are the big losers in all this," says Mr. Khouri of the Issam Fares Institute. "This is one more example in the Middle East of their boys losing."

Unshaven and looking tired, Mr. Jumblatt sat in the courtyard of his residence in the Clemenceau district of west Beirut. With him were two of his closest allies, Marwan Hamade, the minister of telecommunications, and Ghazi Aridi, the minister of information, all three of them busy fielding endless phone calls.

Only hours earlier, the Druze leader's home had been surrounded by militants from Hezbollah, Amal, and the secular Syrian Social Nationalist Party. "We wanted the army to provide security for us, but what can the army do when this militia, called Hezbollah, is stronger than the Army?" Jumblatt asks.

Jumblatt inherited the mantle of Druze leadership following the 1977 assassination of his father, Kamal, and he has since survived three decades of violence, assassination attempts, and shifting political alliances. His political influence far outweighs the size of his constituency; Druze represent roughly seven percent of the population and not all of them follow Jumblatt. A one-time ally of Syria, he has evolved into one of Syria's most resolute opponents and remains Hezbollah's harshest critic.

That staunch enmity has manifested itself in an upsurge of violence between Hezbollah and Jumblatt's supporters, which erupted Sunday in the Chouf mountains south of Beirut.

Sheikh Nasrallah singled him out last week, describing the Druze leader as the true head of the government, not Mr. Siniora. On Saturday, Hezbollah held Jumblatt "personally responsible" for the abduction and killing of two of the party's militants and the disappearance of a third in the Druze town of Aley, which appeared to have triggered the latest round of fighting Sunday afternoon.

"This whole thing is about scaling down Walid Jumblatt," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a political analyst who is close to Hezbollah. "They [Hezbollah] have called him a traitor. Hezbollah can coexist with Saad Hariri, as they recognize that he is a the leader of the Sunnis, but there is no room for Jumblatt in all this."