BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Muslim clerics on Thursday urged calm in Lebanon, alarmed by violence between followers of Sunni and Shi’ite leaders whose political disputes have triggered the worst internal strife since the 1975-90 civil war.
Clashes between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim youths in Beirut last week showed how quickly the bitter political conflict can spill into the streets of a city which still bears the scars of the 1975-1990 civil war.
At least 14 people were wounded and several cars and shops were smashed in the clashes in mixed Sunni-Shi’ite areas of the capital. “To our people in Beirut and everywhere, we tell them: Fighting is forbidden,” Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan, one of Lebanon’s most senior Shi’ite clerics, said in a speech after a meeting with influential Sunni and Druze clerics.
The power struggle pits a governing coalition led by Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri — son of assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri — against an opposition led by the Shi’ite Islamist group Hezbollah.
The crisis, which has paralysed Lebanon for 15 months, has aggravated a range of communal tensions, including old animosities between followers of Christian and Druze leaders who are aligned to the rival camps. “We say to the politicians: ‘Have mercy on this people. We are not against you, but against your charged, tense and quarrelsome discourse,'” Qabalan said, appealing for calm in Beirut, where the Sunni-Shi’ite violence flared last week. “Religious men from the Islamic and Christian sects must move to extinguish the flames of strife,” he added. “We reject the carrying of weapons, confrontation and preparations for what is not necessary,” he added.
Arab diplomats are struggling to broker an end to the crisis. Mediation efforts have been complicated by the rival camps’ ties to competing foreign states.