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Sunni backlash follows Hezbollah's strike in Lebanon

Sectarianism hardened in Lebanon after the Shiite militants clashed with Sunni groups. Talks in Qatar aim to resolve the crisis between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government.

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After Hezbollah militants and their allies surged into west Beirut, angry and humiliated Sunni residents vented their frustrations at Saad Hariri, the leader of the Future Movement.

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"We were betrayed by Hariri," says Omar Abed, a resident of the Sunni district of Tariq Jdeide in Beirut. "They should have given us weapons and training so that we could fight back. How can we fight Hezbollah with sticks and stones?"

In Masnaa, on the Lebanon-Syria frontier in the eastern Bekaa, a 100-strong group of pro-government Sunni gunmen from the nearby village of Majdal Anjar, including veterans of the Iraq insurgency, had seized control of the border crossing.

Ali, the leader, emphatically disassociated his group from the Future Movement. "We are the sons of Majdal Anjar," he says.

One gunman says that the Sunnis of the area had no choice but to protect themselves. "The Future Movement is not helping us, so we have to help ourselves against the Shiites," he says.

In the northern city of Tripoli, Khaled Daher, a former parliamentarian, urged the formation of a national Sunni resistance force, "because those who occupied Beirut are a group in a Persian army," he says referring to the Iranian support of Hezbollah.

Analysts say that Mr. Hariri faces a difficult challenge in the coming weeks to reassure his nervous followers and prevent them from abandoning moderacy for a more militant line. That is a worry for Hezbollah, too. The anti-Shiite militancy of Al Qaeda represents a threat to Hezbollah as it does to moderate Sunni leaders in Lebanon.

"The cracks that appeared in the body of the Future Movement are likely to expand fast in the coming months," wrote Ibrahim al-Amine, a Hezbollah confidante and general manager of the pro-opposition Al Akhbar newspaper. "This forces Hezbollah to contemplate the big question: With whom will it deal in the future and how?"

As the fighting flared in Beirut, jihadist websites were abuzz with speculation about a civil war in Lebanon. Fatah al-Islam, an Al Qaeda-inspired faction that fought a bloody three-month battle against the Lebanese Army last summer, vowed to come to the aid of Lebanese Sunnis against Hezbollah. "What has happened in Beirut – the invasion, the killing, the incineration, the humiliation against the Sunnis – is not acceptable," said a statement, the authenticity of which could not be verified.

Sheikh Hammoud, the Hezbollah-allied Sunni cleric in Sidon, acknowledges that there is support for Al Qaeda in Lebanon and that it could grow in the wake of the sectarian battles. He says he has sent messages inviting Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden or his deputies to contact him directly.

"I want to inform them on exactly what is going on in Lebanon so they don't come here," he says. "Unfortunately, no matter what we say about this conflict, I think Al Qaeda will be tempted to come."

Lebanon's top leaders traveled to Qatar Friday to negotiate a deal to end the crisis. Hopes are high that the dialogue will succeed, but few Lebanese believe that the troubles are really over. "We hope that it will be an end to our problems," says Hajjar. "But realistically, I think it's only the beginning."