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Inter-Shiite fighting continues despite Iranian mediation

By ABDEL MAWLA KHALED

SIDON, Lebanon -- Fighting between Lebanon's Moslem Shiite militias continued for the third consecutive day Monday in south Lebanon despite efforts by Iran and Syria to end the violence that has killed 47 people and wounded more than 135 others.

Security sources said the battles between the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, or Party of God, and the pro-Syrian Amal militia was renewed in the mountainous region of Tufah, east of the port city of Sidon, 24 miles south of Beirut.

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The sources said both groups, vying for control of the regionl, exchanged fire with mortars, rockets and machine guns in a cluster of villages, including Kfar Fila, Kfar Melki and Jarjou.

Amal sources said Hezbollah gunmen tried to advance at dawn toward Kfar Melki but Amal fighters forced them to withdraw.

The sources also denied that Hezbollah has seized the village of Jarjou and affirmed that Amal fighters were determined to oust Hezbollah gunmen from the Tufah region, a string of some 18 villages that runs from east of Sidon to the western part of the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon.

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Relief workers from the Lebanese Red Cross said they could not enter the war-torn region, which was littered with dead bodies and rubble.

'We are fighting in self-defense, but if Amal intends to escalate its attacks we will retaliate fiercely,' said a ranking Hezbollah official, who requested anonymity.

Hezbollah originally controlled two villages in the region, while Amal controlled at least eight villages. The rest are controlled by a joint force of Moslem Sunni Lebanese fighters from Sidon and Palestinian guerrillas from the refugee camp of Ain El Helweh on the outskirts of the city.

Amal and Hezbollah claimed to have the upper hand in the battles but there was no way to confirm either side's purported victory as both groups continued to bring reinforcements into the region.

Witnesses said the three-day battle caused considerable damage to homes and cars. Panicking residents were seen fleeing the area carrying essential belongings.

Preliminary reports said the Amal-Hezbollah fighting left 47 dead and more than 135 wounded, mostly civilians.

Meanwhile, Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Ali Besharati arrived Monday in Lebanon via Damascus with a mission designed to stop the clashes. Local radio stations said Besharati started immediate talks with Hezbollah leaders and Amal officials in an attempt to enforce a cease-fire.

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Earlier in Damascus, the Iranian envoy met Amal leader Nabih Berri and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Ash Sharaa for the same purpose.

Earlier this month fierce battles raged between the two groups in and around the town of Mashghara, 30 miles southeast of Beirut in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley.

Hezbollah crushed Amal presence in Mashghara and two nearby villages during 48 hours of fighting that killed at least ten people and wounded 32 others.

A few days later the rival militias battled with rockets and automatic rifles in Moslem west Beirut. At least seven people were killed and 18 others wounded in less than 24 hours of fighting.

An agreement signed by both militias last January in Damascus under the sponsorship of Syria and Iran did not end the bloody struggle.

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