BEIRUT, Lebanon - Lebanese factions took another major step toward calming a flare-up of sectarian and political violence by agreeing yesterday to immediately resume long-stalled talks over a new government.
The deal, brokered by a delegation of Arab diplomats, appeared to be a victory for the Shiite militia Hezbollah, which leads the opposition to the U.S.-backed government and the so-called March 14 movement behind it.
Hezbollah fighters occupied parts of Beirut last week, forcing concessions from the administration of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.
"Politically, it's obvious that the opposition won the first round," said Karim Makdisi, a professor of international relations at the American University of Beirut.
For decades, Christian, Druse, Shiite and Sunni Lebanese, along with foreign governments supporting the factions, have jostled for power over this mountainous Mediterranean country.
A 1975-90 civil war devastated it, and the end of an occupation by Syrian troops in 2005 merely invigorated the domestic political fight.
Last week's fighting, which again pushed the country toward civil war, was triggered by a government decision to target Hezbollah's intelligence and communications networks. Hezbollah briefly occupied West Beirut as firefights broke out throughout the country.
The government rescinded the decisions Tuesday, setting the stage for yesterday's deal.
After the announcement, bulldozers began removing piles of debris set up by Hezbollah supporters last week to block major roadways, including the ones leading to the country's sole international airport. Lebanon's Middle East Airlines announced it would resume regular commercial flights.
Under the agreement, Lebanon's feuding pro-Western and Iranian-backed camps are to meet today in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar.
Top agenda items include a new election law and the composition of a new cabinet.
Hezbollah had demanded that both issues be resolved before it and its allies would agree on a new president and on ending an 18-month civil-disobedience campaign that has shut down the capital's glittering downtown and paralyzed the government.
The government and the Bush administration had demanded that Hezbollah and its allies agree to name army chief Michel Suleiman president before the hot-button issues can be resolved.