After years of peaceful confrontation, the standoff between the pro-Western Lebanese government and Hizbullah has turned violent. When the government sent in the Lebanese army to dismantle a phone network operated by Hizbullah, the militant movement decided to fight back.
According to the head of Hizbullah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, "This decision was a declaration of war and the start of war on the resistance and its weapons. Our response to this decision is that whoever declares or starts a war, be it a brother or a father, then it is our right to defend ourselves and our existence." However, Nasrallah said that his movement would stop fighting if the army withdrew from the streets.
There is a danger of the armed conflict spilling over into mixed Sunni-Shi'ite neighbourhoods in Beirut. In one such neighbourhood, Sunnis chanted "God is with the Sunnis," while Shi'ites responded with the words "The Shi'ite blood is boiling". Lebanese army soldiers acted as a barrier between the two sides.
This may be the closest Lebanon has come to a new civil war since the last one ended in 1990 (New York Times).
Let's hope it blows over. I think Hizbullah should know that the support it enjoys among Sunni Arabs would evaporate were it to start a real civil war against the government. I don't think it can afford to risk that.