Hezbollah Gunmen Take Control of Beirut

Tensions are high in Lebanon's capital after three days of gun-battles have seen Hezbollah fighters taking control of much of the city. At least 11 are dead, and on Friday Hezbollah fighters attacked a pro-government TV station.

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PESCA: Also coming up this hour, the New York Police Department has made its reports about every bullet fired between 1996 and 2006 available to the public. We're going to talk with a former NYPD firearms trainer about what the stats mean.

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He's going to talk to us about the status of the media landscape in Afghanistan. There's been a little bit of a government crackdown in recent weeks and months when it comes to freedom of expression on the airwaves in Afghanistan. All of that, plus today's news headlines in just a minute. But first...

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MARTIN: Tensions are high in Beirut, Lebanon as after three days of gun battles, Hezbollah fighters have taken control of much of the city.

PESCA: Heavy fighting in Beirut has left at least 11 dead and 20 wounded. Hezbollah fighters, who were Shiites, fought Sunni pro-government groups and have now taken over the Muslim area of the capital city. Earlier today, they attacked a pro-government TV station and forced it off the air.

MARTIN: Rania Masri of Raleigh, North Carolina is a professor at Balamand University in Lebanon. She was caught in a high rise apartment building near much of the fighting.

Professor RANIA MASRI (Environmental Science, University of Balamand): The shooting has been almost nonstop since four p.m. yesterday, almost nonstop. At most, there is two to three minutes of silence and then there's gunfire. Personally, I'm familiar with these sounds.

People are hiding within their homes. They're staying away from the windows. Myself, I was on the eighth floor. I went down to the sixth floor where it's a little bit safer. I have friends who spent the night in the bathtubs with their children. So people are trying to stay as much as they can in the interior of their homes.

PESCA: The clashes began earlier this week when Lebanon's government declared Hezbollah's private military-communications network illegal. Hezbollah's leaders say that the ruling amounted to a declaration of war against the group.

MARTIN: The violence marks an escalation in tensions that have been simmering in Lebanon for some time now. Many observers are drawing parallels to the civil war that gripped the country from 1975 to 1990. Yesterday, in Washington, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. is monitoring the situation.

Mr. SEAN MCCORMACK (Assistant Secretary, Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State): Certainly, as we are watching this unfold, it is a source of concern for us. I'm sure that it is an even greater source of concern for the Lebanese people who've, once again, seen their daily lives interrupted.

PESCA: A National Security Council spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said of the violence, quote, "Hezbollah needs to make a choice. Be a terrorist organization or be a political party but quit trying to be both. They need to stop their disruptive activities now."

MARTIN: Meanwhile in Lebanon, Rania Masri says people there are trying to stay optimistic in the face of the violence.

Prof. MASRI: It's like there's an enforced sense of calm that may not be realistic. What we do know is so long as it remains in select neighborhoods in Beirut, then there is hope that it can be stopped through a negotiation. So if it is going to die down, then it will die down within the next few days or within the next week. If it does not die down within the week, then we are entering the next stage of warfare.

PESCA: You can go to npr.org throughout the day for updates on this story. Now let's some more of today's headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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