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Cease-fire has little impact in Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Rival Shiite Amal and Hezbollah militiamen Thursday traded gunfire in southern Lebanon, further defying a cease-fire arranged by Iran and Syria, police said.

Hezbollah gunmen, entrenched in the hilltop village of Jabaa, 24 miles south of Beirut, engaged in sporadic artillery and rocket exchanges overnight with their Amal rivals in the nearby village of Kfar Fila, police said.

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After sunrise, police said, the militiamen stopped using cannons and rocket launchers, but kept fighting with jeep-mounted machine guns. There was no report of casualties in the latest confrontation over who will control the war-torn nation's Shiite community.

The fighting between Amal and Hezbollah came despite a cease-fire agreement announced Wednesday by Iran, which supports Hezbollah, and Syria, which backs Amal.

The agreement, announced after two days of intensive talks in Damascus involving officials from the four parties, stipulated an immediate cease-fire and a halt of a war of words between the rivals.

But only hours after the agreement was reported, Amal and Hezbollah battled with cannons and rockets around Jabaa for 60 minutes Wednesday.

Shiite sources close to the negotiations said some of the sticking points were Amal's insistance that Hezbollah turn over those who killed three leaders of the movement last September, and Hezbollah's demand to re-establish bases in southern Lebanon.

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The latest cease-fire was the first arranged directly by the Syrian and Iranian governments. Previous negotiated halts in fighting, which inevitably failed, were arranged by the rival groups' field commanders and Syrian officers.

The latest round of fighting for control of Lebanon's Shiite community erupted Dec. 31 in Beirut's suburbs and spread to southern Lebanon, killing at least 161 people and wounding 310.

Syria has been seen as a main power broker in Lebanon since Damascus deployed some 25,000 troops in the country in 1976 to halt the civil war.

Iran's intervention in the country started in 1982, when Tehran sent in hundreds of revolutionary guards to back Syrian and Palestinian forces against the Israeli army.

The Amal-Hezbollah warfare broke out last April, when Amal crushed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The fundamentalists responded by ousting Amal in May from most of Beirut southern suburbs.

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