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1988: Syria threatens force in Beirut
Syria has hinted for the first time it may send in troops to halt the bloodshed in the slums of southern Beirut.

At least 150 people have been killed in the fighting in the past four days. More than 400 people - many of them civilians - are being treated in hospital.

The fighting between the Syrian-backed Amal militia and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah is for control of the southern suburbs, where it is believed the Western hostages including Terry Waite are being held.

Thousands of residents have fled the area to escape the violence. Many have sought refuge with relatives or friends living in safer parts of the city.

Heavy casualties

Syria's chief of military intelligence Brigadier Ghazi Kanaan has held talks with Lebanon's Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss.

Afterwards he said: "We have told the combatants 'you will force us to solve the problem if you do not agree to an end'".

Asked if Syria would deploy troops in the southern suburbs in support of the Amal fighters, Brigadier Kanaan replied: "We hope it will not come to this, but I will not allow the situation to continue as it is."

Syrian intervention could lead to even more heavy casualties. An offensive against Sunni Muslim fundamentalists in the northern city of Tripoli in 1985 left at least 300 people dead and thousands wounded.

It is unclear which rebel group currently holds the upper hand in the fighting. Amal defeated Hezbollah in fierce battles in the south of the country last month.

Several truces have already collapsed as Hezbollah has refused to give up its captured positions.

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Street fighting
The Amal militia and Hezbollah are fighting for control of the southern suburbs

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