Four people were wounded in armed clashes in eastern Lebanon overnight between supporters of the ruling majority and the Hezbollah opposition, security sources said on Monday. Armed men opened fire with machine guns, mortar rounds and rockets in the village of Saadnayel in the Bekaa Valley in the east of the country during the night and the tension lasted until dawn despite army intervention, the sources said.

Reports say fighting in the villages of Saadnayel and Taalabayeh was sparked by arguments among residents, which escalated into gun battles.  The army says it is looking for those involved in the weekend’s violence.  Sporadic fighting has broken out in Lebanon despite May’s peace deal which ended the 18-month political stalemate.  The army moved into the Bekaa Valley villages on Monday to quell fighting between pro-and anti-government supporters.  A local radio station reported that mortar rounds and rockets had been used but the army is said to have restored calm in both villages.  The army says it has also carried out raids in the mountain village of Majdelbanna, in the Aley region, and has detained several people suspected of involvement in clashes there over the weekend.

By Hussein Abdallah  BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri has raised doubts about the implementation of the recently launched security plan to stanch violence in Beirut and other parts of the country. "I do not know what exactly is delaying  implementing the decisions of the Central Security Council … unless they expect the feuding parties to take the security measures instead of them," Berri said in comments published by As-Safir newspaper. "The security and armed forces should play their role and take all the necessary measures to contain the security situation in the country."

Berri also praised Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora for what he called his serious and responsible attitude in dealing with security issues.

The Central Security Council called on security authorities implement a plan that includes the removal of provocative pictures and inflammatory propaganda material, an immediate halt to political campaigns in the media, helping Beirut residents return to their homes and the return of party offices to their rightful owners.

The plan came after clashes in early May in Beirut between opposition supporters and government loyalists that killed at least 65 people.

Also on Monday, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun said his party would join the new cabinet despite pressure on it to stay away.

Not yielding to our demands aims at pressuring us in hope that we will decide not to take part in the new cabinet, but this will not happen," Aoun said after a meeting of the Reform and Change parliamentary bloc, which he heads.

Aoun reiterated that his request to receive the post of the Finance Ministry was justified.

"I don’t understand [the March 14 bloc’s] attitude when it comes to the Finance Ministry … They are acting as if they own the ministry, while we know that it is only normal for any ministry to be rotated among the different parties," Aoun said.

Siniora was quoted as saying earlier that he would rather go home than relinquish control of the Finance Ministry.

Aoun, who is angling to get five of the 11 ministries promised to the March 8 camp, earlier demanded to get the portfolios of finance, public works, social affairs, health and either industry or agriculture.

While the Finance Ministry is considered a sovereign portfolio, the other four are all service-related portfolios. Aoun said that some parties were rushing to get such ministries with aim of making gains instead of delivering services to people.

Opposition March 8 sources quoted Aoun as telling As-Safir on Monday that he had made a clear decision not to participate in any government in which he was not granted a sovereign portfolio. A leading opposition member told the paper that Aoun would refuse any at tempt to make him abandon his demand for a sovereign portfolio in exchange for service-related portfolios in cabinet.

"This is a decision that Aoun will not back down from, no matter what the consequences are," he said.

The opposition member said that Berri and Hizbullah both backed Aoun’s demand.

Also on Monday, former President Amin Gemayel urged all parties to speed up the formation of the new cabinet.

"They are fighting over the sovereign portfolios, while Lebanon’s sovereignty can bear no more divisions," he said.

The Phalange Party leader also voiced his worries about the security situation in the country.

Meanwhile, in a statement to his party’s Al-Anbaa weekly Monday, Democratic Gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt stressed the positive impact of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s statements, "which intersect with [President Michel] Sleiman’s inaugural speech."

Jumblatt said that Sarkozy highlighted the importance of the constitutional institutions and the role of the international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Jumblatt called for the implementation of the Doha accord, which forbids the use of force in resolving political disputes.

He also commented on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s recent advice to Lebanon to start direct negotiations with Israel.

"This will not happen before Syria signs a peace treaty … Lebanon will not fall in this Syrian trap," Jumblatt said.

As The Daily Star went to press, the Lebanese Army announced that it had detained 14 people after a clash between what it described as two families in Raouda, a village near the Masnaa border crossing with Syria. Three people were hurt in the violence. The army posited no explanation for the clash.

l BEIRUT: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has discussed the situation in Lebanon during a telephone conversation with his Syrian counterpart Walid Moallem, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported on Sunday.

It said that the two officials talked about bilateral relations, in addition to developments in the Middle East, particularly Lebanon and the peace process.

A German Foreign Ministry statement said Steinmeier and Moallem agreed that an accord signed between bickering Lebanese politicians in Qatar last month "offers the chance of reconciliation" in Lebanon.

The statement said Steinmeier also expressed hope that Lebanon and Syria would establish diplomatic relations.

The German foreign minister visited Beirut last week and met with Sleiman. – Agencies

Hizbullah open to liberating Shebaa Farms through diplomacy – sarkozy

BEIRUT: Hizbullah is not opposed to the liberation of the disputed Shebaa Farms region through diplomatic channels, press sources quoted French President Nicolas Sarkozy as saying Monday.

Pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported Sarkozy had asked Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad if "the possibility of liberating Shebaa Farms though diplomatic means exists." Raad, according to the Al-Hayat source, said Hizbullah would not be opposed to such an effort.

The issue of an Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa Farms was also discussed by Sarkozy and Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, with Sleiman reportedly telling the French head of state that "the withdrawal of Israeli troops would allow the Lebanese to begin discussing a national defense strategy and address the question of weapons in the country."

Sarkozy reportedly pledged to put forth the issue during an upcoming visit to Israel and propose United Nations control of the area until the demarcation of the Lebanese-Syrian border is completed. – The Daily Star