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Uncertainty deepens in Lebanon as Hezbollah seizes control of west Beirut

The success of the Shiite group's offensive casts doubt over government's ability to survive.

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Gunmen from the militant Shiite Hezbollah and its allies took control of west Beirut Friday, crushing fighters from the Sunni Future Movement and opening an uncertain new chapter in Lebanon's tortured history.

The success of Hezbollah's offensive cast doubt over the government's ability to survive in its current configuration, despite an air of resolve by cabinet ministers.

Ahmad Fatfat, the minister of sports, said that Hezbollah had taken advantage of the government's decisions "as a pretext to declare war."

"Hezbollah has gained control over Beirut and has caused a Sunni-Shiite conflict that will be extended for years," he said. "We are trying to reduce its severity and contain possible repercussions."

The west Beirut residences of Saad Hariri, who heads the Future Movement, and Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon's Druze community, were besieged by heavily armed fighters from Hezbollah and its Shiite ally the Amal Movement. By noon Friday, fighting had mostly petered out after Future Movement fighters laid down their weapons and allowed themselves to be escorted away under the protection of Lebanese troops.

"It was a one-side civil war," says Hani Hammoud, senior adviser to Mr. Hariri, speaking by telephone from Hariri's besieged residence in the Koreitem district of west Beirut. "The end result is that Iran has taken over the country."

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