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Page last updated at 19:33 GMT, Saturday, 10 May 2008 20:33 UK

Hezbollah to end Beirut seizure

Shia gunman packs away his gun
Shia gunman packs away his gun as Hezbollah orders withdrawal

Hezbollah has agreed to withdraw its gunmen from Beirut after the Lebanese army settled tensions between the Shia group and armed government supporters.

The army revoked two key government measures that had led to four days of street fighting between the two sides, leaving at least 37 people dead.

Hezbollah had seized large parts of the city, but said it was now handing control back to the army.

But it has vowed to continue civil disobedience until its demands are met.

A Hezbollah statement said: "The Lebanese opposition will end all armed presence in Beirut so that the capital will be in the hands of the army."

Funeral shootings

The fighting was sparked by a government move to shut down Hezbollah's telecoms network and the removal of the chief of security at Beirut airport for alleged Hezbollah sympathies.

A Lebanese woman and her children walk past Lebanese soldiers in West Beirut, 10 may, 2008

Those decisions were referred to the army which shelved them, and called on all parties to return to the status quo before the fighting.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in Beirut, says the army's proposals offer a face-saving compromise that allows the government to back down.

He says the streets are expected to be calmer and the international airport is likely to reopen.

Earlier, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called on the army to restore law and order, saying the country would not fall to Hezbollah after four days of street battles which saw the Shia movement drive supporters of the government out of western Beirut.

In his first response to Hezbollah's de facto takeover of the west of the capital, Mr Siniora said his government would never declare war against the Shia group.

Also on Saturday, at least two people were killed after gunfire broke out during a funeral in a Sunni area of Beirut when unidentified gunmen targeted the funeral procession of a Sunni civilian killed during clashes on Friday.

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Rioting broke out on Saturday after gunmen targeted a funeral

The spiral of unrest has sparked memories of Lebanon's bitter, 15-year civil war.

Leaders of Lebanon's rival political factions were due to meet on Saturday and the Arab League will hold talks about the crisis on Sunday.

TV station closed

Hezbollah militants had earlier withdrawn from the streets of Beirut having crushed resistance by Sunni gunmen loyal to Mr Siniora's government.

In the areas of Beirut worst affected by battles between Hezbollah and pro-government loyalists, barricades that had been set up were abandoned early on Saturday, said the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.

But the TV station run by Sunni leader Saad Hariri is still off the air after gunmen forced its closure on Friday, he added.

In northern Lebanon, at least 10 gunmen were killed when pro-government activists stormed the office of a Hezbollah-allied party in northern Lebanon, reports said.

Gunmen loyal to Mr Hariri set ablaze the office of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party in the village of Halba, after the gun battle.

Lebanon was plunged into civil war from 1975-90, drawing in Syria and Israel, the two regional powers.

The latest violence amounts to a humiliating blow to the government, which appears to have badly overplayed its hand in moving to close Hezbollah's telecoms network on Tuesday, our correspondent says.



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