In a televised address to the Lebanese nation, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora denied that his government was at war with Shia movement Hezbollah but condemned its efforts to take over west Beirut.
BEIRUT - Lebanon's U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said on Saturday the state would not fall into the hands of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah which he accused of launching a coup by taking control of Beirut.
"Your state will not fall under the control of the putschists," Siniora said in a televised address to the Lebanese. It was his first response since Hezbollah and allied fighters routed pro-government gunmen in west Beirut on Friday.
Hezbollah's takeover, a blow to U.S. policy, left Siniora's government reeling and strengthened Hezbollah's position as the most powerful group in Lebanon after a 17-month power struggle with the governing coalition.
He reiterated a proposal already rejected by Hezbollah for resolving the crisis, which erupted this week into the worst internal strife since the 1975-90 civil war. At least 25 people have been killed and 60 wounded.
Siniora said Beirut was "besieged" and "occupied". "What is Hezbollah doing in the alleyways of Beirut?" he said.
Five gunmen died in clashes on Saturday east of Beirut and in north Lebanon, while two people were killed in the capital when shots were fired at the funeral of a government supporter.
The United States, which considers Hezbollah a terrorist group, a threat to Israel, and a weapon in the hands of Iran, said it was talking with other powers about taking measures against "those responsible for the violence".
On the streets of Beirut, fighters from the Iranian- and Syrian-backed group continued to man checkpoints on main thoroughfares, although in smaller numbers than a day earlier.
Traffic was thin as many residents stayed at home. Beirut's international airport remained closed.
A few shops reopened after the army deployed in several areas but did not interfere with Hezbollah guerrillas, who in turn stayed away from main government installations in Beirut.
SYRIA, IRAN LINKS
Hezbollah took control of Muslim west Beirut on Friday in what the government and its allies described as "an armed and bloody coup".
The United States said it was "very troubled" by Hezbollah's actions in Beirut and criticised the group's links to Damascus and Tehran.
Christian districts in east Beirut have been spared the fighting after Hezbollah defeated forces loyal to parliamentary majority leader Saad al-Hariri. Hariri's supporters still controlled areas in the north of the country and kept a key crossing point with Syria in the BekaaValley shut.
Hariri is a son of the late Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, whose assassination three years ago began the worst turmoil since the 1975-1990 civil war, which split Beirut into eastern Christian and western Muslim sections.
Hezbollah's show of military might is alarming the West and its Sunni Arab allies who fear Iran's growing influence in the region.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which back Lebanon's government, called for an Arab foreign ministers meeting on Sunday. "There are regional repercussions at stake and the situation must be saved," Arab League chief Amr Moussa told al-Jazeera television.
The fighting erupted after the government said it was taking legal action against Hezbollah's military communications network on grounds it was illegal.
Hezbollah, its prestige enhanced in the region after it stood its ground in a war with Israel in 2006, said the government had declared war.
The anti-Syria ruling coalition said the "armed and bloody coup" was aimed at increasing Iran's influence and restoring that of Syria, forced to withdraw troops from Lebanon in 2005 following Hariri's assassination.
Syria said the issue was an internal Lebanese affair while Iran blamed "the adventurist interferences" of the United States and Israel for the violence.
The crisis has paralysed political decisions, left Lebanon without a president and heightened sectarian tensions.
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