Beirut, Lebanon Running gunbattles raged in parts of Beirut on Thursday after the leader of Hezbollah accused Lebanon's Western-backed government of declaring war on his Shiite militant group. At least four people were killed and eight wounded in the capital.
In a grim reminder of Lebanon's devastating 1975-90 civil war, factions threw up roadblocks and checkpoints dividing Beirut into sectarian enclaves on the second day of clashes between Sunni Muslims loyal to the government and Shiite supporters of Hezbollah.
A top Sunni leader went on television urging Hezbollah to pull its fighters back and "save Lebanon from hell." The army, which has stayed out of the sectarian political squabbling that has paralyzed the country for more than a year, did not intervene in the battles.
The chattering of automatic weapons and thumps of exploding rocket-propelled grenades echoed across Beirut into the night. People huddled in hallways and stairwells as gunmen rushed from one street corner to the next firing at their foes. Some families fled to neighborhoods that remained quiet.
"There is so much shooting and explosions outside. Our building is in the middle of the fighting," a terrified woman, Ghada Helmi, told The Associated Press by telephone.
Fighting began along Corniche Mazraa, an avenue separating Shiite and Sunni areas, then spread to other districts. Combat was heard near the office of Lebanon's Sunni spiritual leader, an ally of the government, and near the official residence of the opposition-aligned parliament speaker.
In peaceful neighborhoods, people jammed into supermarkets rushing to stockpile food while outside gunmen armed with assault rifles and RPGs peered from building entrances or took cover next to shuttered shops.
The unrest virtually shut down Lebanon's international airport for a second day and barricades closed major highways. Hezbollah first blocked roads in Beirut on Wednesday to enforce a strike called by labor unions, but confrontations quickly spread across the city.
Security officials said Thursday night that a mother and her son were killed when a grenade hit their apartment and two men were shot dead during the Beirut fighting. Eight people were wounded in the city and four more were wounded in a Sunni-Shiite gunbattle in the eastern Bekaa Valley, officials said.
Fighting intensified minutes after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made a televised address charging that the government had declared war on his group when it decided this week to shut down Hezbollah's private telecommunications network