Lebanon clashes intensify: at least 42 killed in Sidon battle
Lebanese Army soldiers take cover behind their armoured vehicle as they enter the Abra neighbourhood on the eastern outskirts of Sidon (Joseph Eid / AFP)
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The Lebanese army on Monday seized a compound belonging to radical Salafi Sheikh Ahmad Assir in the southern coastal city of Sidon. The army took control of the compound after deadly clashes continued in to a second day. At least 17 government soldiers have been killed in the violence, along with 25 gunmen loyal to the firebrand anti-Hezbollah preacher.
Assir remained in the vicintiy of the compound and was overheard by army sources urging his supporters not to surrender and to "fight to the death," the Daily Star reported.
Speaking with AFP, Assir's brother said the Sheikh "will stay in the mosque until the last drop of blood.”
"There has been a decision taken to finish us off, but we're resisting up until now," Amjad al-Assir told AFP by phone.
Military sources told the Daily Star that the army remained engaged in a battle with snipers positioned on the rooftops of surrounding buildings.
As the fighting continued into Monday afternoon, Lebanon's military prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Assir and more than a hundred of his followers. Among the 123 names on the list is the former singer Fadl Shaker, who quit music to follow the extremist preacher.
The fighting is the latest escalation in violence that has swept Lebanon since neighbouring Syria's uprising took on an increasingly sectarian dimension.
Thousands of Hezbollah fighters have departed Lebanon to defend the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against the largely Sunni-dominated rebel forces. Deadly clashes between Assad supporters and those opposed to his rule have spilled onto Lebanese streets, resulting in dozens of deaths in the northern city of Tripoli over recent months.