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Hezbollah militants pull back in Beirut

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Opposition spokesman accepts Lebanese army's securing city
  • NEW: Twelve people killed and more than 30 wounded in Saturday incidents
  • NEW: Funeral attack, Tripoli fighting bring death toll to 33 since Wednesday
  • Army tells all parties to withdraw gunmen, says it will tackle main issues
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Hezbollah militants will leave Beirut's streets in response to the Lebanese army's assuming security in the city, an opposition spokesman said Saturday, but "civil disobedience" will continue.

Lebanese soldiers secure a street corner between eastern and western Beirut on Saturday.

Spokesman Ali Hassan Khalil is a political aide to House Speaker Nabih Berri and a member of the Lebanese parliament in the Amal bloc, which is aligned with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah seized control of West Beirut on Friday after several days of fighting. In a nationally televised speech Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora accused Hezbollah of trying to stage a military coup.

But, Khalil said, "the real coup is not allowing the participation of a basic fabric of the Lebanese community and keeping it ... from being a part of the decision-making for a year and half. ... Siniora is the one who carried out the coup against the Lebanese state and against dialogue."

It was unclear what Khalil meant by "civil disobedience."

Twelve people were killed and at least 33 wounded in incidents nationwide.

Two people were killed in a shooting at a funeral in a Sunni neighborhood of Beirut. Ten others died in clashes between pro- and anti-government forces in Halba, a northern city outside Tripoli, Internal Security Forces said.

The deaths bring to 33 the number of people killed since the violence broke out Wednesday, the agency said. About 119 people have been wounded during the same period.

In his speech, Siniora asked the Lebanese army to resolve two issues that sparked the violence Wednesday: the firing of the chief of security at the Beirut airport and the order that Hezbollah's telecommunications system come under state control.

Shortly after his speech, the army issued a written statement saying it was reinstating the security chief, pending an investigation.

It also said it would discuss the telecommunications system to reach an agreement.

The military demanded that "all parties return to the status quo before the start of the recent events in the country, in order to prevent armed manifestations, withdraw all gunmen and open all roads."

The army ordered Hezbollah supporters to end a sit-in so the army and internal forces can immediately "take over the the responsibility of security" and said it considered "every gunman in the street as an outlaw."

Army units will be deployed to maintain security, extend state authority and arrest violators, the military said.

The Lebanese army, which has its own political factions, did not join the battles that erupted this week.

Soldiers instead effectively negotiated a surrender of pro-government positions, Lebanese Internal Security Forces and Western military observers said.

"We thought the threat our country was from our historic enemy Israel. But recent experience now shows that our homes and our democracy is being held hostage by our own brothers, who want to create coup and terror," Siniora said.

He was referring to the Hezbollah-Israeli war in the summer of 2006, during which the Lebanese government supported the Shiite political party and militia backed by Syria and Iran.

Siniora has been hiding in his government headquarters, protected by Lebanese troops, since Hezbollah and its allies swept through the Muslim sector of the capital.

"We can no longer accept that Hezbollah and its weapons be kept like this. The Lebanese can no longer continue to accept this situation," he said in his address.

"Hezbollah must realize that the force of arms will not intimidate us or make us retreat from our position."

Hezbollah militants had set up checkpoints in western Beirut a day after dealing a major blow to the U.S.-backed government.

Militia members, armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, patrolled the streets after forcing pro-government forces from the capital's Sunni neighborhoods. Hezbollah is a Shiite militant group backed by Iran and Syria.

The U.S. government -- which supports Siniora and condemns Hezbollah as a terror group -- praised Lebanese forces and the prime minister for trying to restore order in the streets. The Bush administration considers Hezbollah a destabilizing force in the Middle East with its strong ties to Iran and Syria.

"Our concerns regarding Hezbollah are unchanged," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, on Saturday.

The relative calm after three days of clashes had put at least a temporary hold on the worst sectarian violence since the end of the country's civil war in 1991. Video Watch how the world is responding to the crisis »

The latest tensions between the Shiite militia and the Sunni-led government were sparked Monday by the government's crackdown on Hezbollah's telecommunication system.

The government had said the security chief was fired because of allegations that Hezbollah had installed cameras and other monitoring equipment there.


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the ban on the telecommunications system amounted to "a declaration of open war."

Hezbollah has blocked the election of a president in parliament, leaving the country without a head of state since November.

CNN's Nada al-Husseini and Schams Elwazer contributed to this report.

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