BEIRUT, Lebanon The Lebanese army announced on Monday evening that it would start using force to stop fighting between supporters of the governing coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition, a step the army had not taken during almost a week of sectarian violence that recalled the country's 15-year civil war.
The announcement was made as violence eased across Lebanon, despite some renewed street battles in the north. Tensions were still high in the Chouf mountains overlooking Beirut, where armed fighters remained on the roads after a day and night of fierce clashes that appeared to have left dozens of people dead.
The army continued to deploy in the mountains east of Beirut and in northern Lebanon as part of a plan to take over militia positions and quell the fighting. But there were signs that some government-allied figures were increasingly mistrustful of the army widely viewed as Lebanon's one nonpartisan institution because it did not interfere when Hezbollah supporters seized control of much of western Beirut on Friday.
In northern Lebanon, a plan for local groups to hand their weapons to the army has encountered some resistance because pro-government groups, which are the majority in the north, fear being left at the mercy of Hezbollah, said Misbah Ahdab, a member of parliament from Tripoli. Sporadic gun battles took place on Monday between pro-government Sunni fighters in the Bab al Tabbaneh area of Tripoli, in the north, and pro-Hezbollah Alawites in neighboring Jebel Mohsen, Ahdab said.
Although both of Lebanon's major political camps still look to the army as an arbiter, government supporters have become increasingly critical of its passive role in the recent clashes.
"The army is no longer the army," said a political adviser to the government, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "It has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the citizens."
In the Chouf mountains east of Beirut, one pro-government Druse fighter, asked if he and his fellow Druse would give up their weapons to the army starting today, said, "We will if Hezbollah will."
Hezbollah has long refused to discuss relinquishing its weapons; the current crisis began last week after the government challenged a private telephone network and airport camera system that Hezbollah views as part of its defenses.
Tensions remained high on Monday in the Chouf, where at least 20 government-allied Druse fighters were killed in battles that stretched through Sunday night, said Walid Jumblatt, the Druse leader. Jumblatt's followers were fighting Shiite Hezbollah supporters and their Druse allies. The number killed on that side was not clear, but Reuters reported that 36 people had been killed in all during the mountain battles.
Jumblatt seemed uneasy about the prospect of further unrest in the mountains, especially in light of the raids by heavily armed Hezbollah fighters into the Druse mountain heartland over the weekend.
"We will not accept to be humiliated," Jumblatt said during an interview at his Beirut residence.
On Monday, army units and militiamen loyal to the Hezbollah-led opposition were visible on the roads. In the town of Shuweifat, closer to Beirut, there were burned-out cars and shops, and houses riddled with fresh bullet holes. Human remains lay on the floor of one bullet-scarred garage, along with thick bloodstains where bodies had apparently been dragged along the floor.
In Beirut, an uneasy calm prevailed as government figures awaited the arrival of an Arab delegation that aims to help resolve the crisis. The Cabinet has still not met to discuss the two government decisions that led Hezbollah to seize western Beirut, and it is not yet clear whether rescinding those decisions will be enough for Hezbollah to stop its so-called civil disobedience campaign, which includes blocking the road to the Beirut airport.