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BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Hezbollah's leader says a Lebanese government decision to declare the Shiite militant group's telecommunications network illegal amounts to a declaration of war.
The U.S.-backed government on Tuesday declared the military telecommunications network illegal and said it was a threat to state security. The government also said it would dismiss the security chief of the country's only international airport because he was suspected of ties to Hezbollah.
Those Cabinet decisions sparked two days of sectarian clashes between Hezbollah and government supporters.
"The decision is tantamount to a declaration of war ... on the resistance and its weapons in the interest of America and Israel," Hassan Nasrallah said in a news conference aired live on television Thursday.
Gunbattles erupt in Beirut as strike turns into violent confrontation between Government and opposition led by Hezbollah
The rattle of automatic weapons and the crump of exploding rocket-propelled grenades echoed around the streets of the Lebanese capital as thick plumes of smoke rose from barricades of burning tyres.
The strike was called by the leading Lebanese trade union in protest at rising prices and over a demand for an increase in the minimum wage.
“This is a turning point. There can be no more cohabitation between the Government and the opposition. All trust is gone,” said Amal Saad Ghorayeb, a Lebanese political analyst and expert on Hezbollah.
... also accused Hezbollah of setting up its own private telecommunications network to eavesdrop on calls made in Lebanon.
Hezbollah said that its internal telephone system was an integral component of its military wing, and that anyone attempting to shut it down would be treated as an Israeli spy.
Hopes that the violence would ebb by the evening faded as Hezbollah gave warning that it would increase the street action in 48 hours unless the Government withdrew its investigation into the party's telephone network and reinstated General Shuqeir.
Hezbollah supporters blocked the road leading to Beirut airport
"Just in the past few minutes ... things have gotten a lot worse," CNN's Cal Perry reported from downtown Beirut. The sound of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades could be heard throughout his live reports.
Perry, who took cover with the Lebanese army, said government forces have not reacted yet to the violence.
The gun battles were taking place between Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods in the capital, near CNN's Beirut Bureau.
Hezbollah chief says 'War has started'