Lebanon The Battle for South Beirut

Syria watches warily as rival forces fight over a Shi'ite enclave

Squadrons of Syrian tanks rolled into position around the southern suburbs of Beirut last week, their cannon muzzles pointed menacingly at the 16-sq.-mi. enclave. Two Syrian armored brigades, supported by two battalions of President Hafez Assad's elite Special Forces commandos, crouched behind barricades ringing the Shi'ite Muslim slums. Since May 6, fierce battles between rival militias had raged through the streets and alleys, causing many of the area's 250,000 residents to flee. In bloody hand-to-hand combat, the fanatical, pro- Iranian Hizballah had driven the more moderate, Syrian-backed Amal out of its positions and seized control of some 90% of the district.


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