BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanese factions took another major step toward calming a flare-up of sectarian and political violence Thursday by agreeing to immediately resume long-stalled talks over a new government.
The deal, brokered by a visiting delegation of Arab diplomats, appeared to be a victory for the Shiite militia Hezbollah, which leads the opposition to the U.S.-backed government and the so-called March 14 movement behind it. Hezbollah fighters occupied parts of Beirut last week, forcing concessions from the administration of Prime Minister Fauod Siniora.
“Politically, it’s obvious that the opposition won the first round,” said Karim Makdisi, a professor of international relations at the American University of Beirut. “March 14 is in a state of strategic retreat,” he said. “They will come back, but they recognize that they lost for now.”
For decades, Lebanon’s Christians, Druze, Shiites and Sunnis, along with foreign governments supporting the factions, have jostled for power over this mountainous Mediterranean country. A 1975-90 civil war devastated the country, and the end of an occupation by Syrian troops in 2005 merely invigorated the domestic political fight.
Last week’s fighting, which again pushed the country toward civil war, was triggered by a government decision to target Hezbollah’s intelligence and communications networks. Hezbollah briefly occupied West Beirut while firefights broke out throughout the country.
The government rescinded the decisions Tuesday, setting the stage for Thursday’s deal.
After the announcement, bulldozers began removing piles of debris set up by Hezbollah supporters last week to block major roadways, including the ones leading to the country’s sole international airport.