At Least Three Dead in Beirut Clashes

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BEIRUT - Clashes erupted between Shiite and Sunni groups on the streets of Beirut Tuesday, killing at least three people and wounding 10.

Hezbollah Shiite gunmen fought with members of al-Ahbash, a conservative, pro-Syrian Sunni group.

Lebanese Army forces were deployed to help restore calm. Machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades could be heard for more than four hours.

Tuesday's clashes took place outside a mosque in Burj Abi Haidar, a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood, Lebanese security officials said

A few blocks away, tourists filled the streets of downtown Beirut.

Families ran for cover and ambulances rushed to the scene to rescue the wounded.

The street fights were the worst since May 2008 when Hezbollah gunmen fought with Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri's Sunni forces as they tried to cut off Hezbollah's telecommunications network. One hundred people were killed in those clashes, which nearly ushered in civil war.

A joint statement issued by Hezbollah and al-Ahbash when calm was restored said the four-hour gun battle had "no political or sectarian background" and was just a "personal dispute."

Mohammed Fawaz, a senior Hezbollah operative and his aid, Ali Jawad, were both killed, as was Ahmed Omayrat of al-Ahbash.

Salah, a 40-year-old eyewitness who asked that his last name be withheld, was in the mosque when the fight erupted.

"They were shooting at the mosque," Salah said. "I think these people are crazy," he said.

Salah hid in the mosque until a lull in the fighting allowed him to flee from the area. 

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AP contributed to this report.

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