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Page last updated at 17:52 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 18:52 UK

Deal seeks to end Lebanon strife

Blockade on Beirut highway
Blockades still remain on some of Beirut's main thoroughfares

Arab League mediators in Lebanon say they have clinched an agreement to end the recent fighting, which raised fears of a second civil war breaking out.

They said the opposition would end sit-in protests in Beirut and allow the city's airport and port to reopen.

Fighting between pro-government groups and the Hezbollah-led opposition broke out last week leaving at least 65 dead.

The breakthrough came a day after the Lebanese government withdrew plans aimed at curbing Hezbollah.

In what correspondents called a climb-down, ministers rescinded decisions to shut down of Hezbollah's private phone system and to remove a head of airport security.

These moves last week triggered the worst violence since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

Roadblocks removed

The head of the Arab League delegation, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Hamad al-Thani, announced a breakthrough on Thursday after two days of peace talks in Beirut.

The mediators said the rival parties would go to Qatar on Friday to try to elect a president - Lebanon has had no president since November - and form a national unity government.

The two sides have already agreed to appoint Lebanese army commander Gen Michel Suleiman as president, but must resolve the other issues first.

Lebanon has been suspended in political crisis since late 2006 when the Hezbollah-led opposition left a national unity coalition cabinet, demanding more power and a veto over government decisions.

As news of a deal broke, mechanical diggers began removing roadblocks set up last week by militants on the route to Beirut's international airport, paving the way for the first commercial flight to land in a week.

Naim Qassam, the deputy leader of Hezbollah, a mainly Shia political and militant movement, earlier pledged it would return the situation in Lebanon back "to normal".

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the Lebanese know that issues like the make-up of a new government have defied all previous efforts to reach agreement.

But they will cautiously welcome the improved situation on the ground, while keeping their fingers crossed that the dialogue will produce a stable political situation, he says.

Lebanon's Western-backed governing coalition said last week's violence was a coup attempt by Hezbollah aimed at restoring the influence of the two regional powers, Syria and Iran.




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