Protesters gathered around the country in support of militant Sheikh Ahmad Assir Friday, some carrying weapons and causing unrest while The Mufti of Sidon called for calm and urged Lebanese authorities to investigate events surrounding recent clashes in the southern city.
Assir and his supporters fought a two-day battle with Army forces that killed 18 soldiers and at least 28 gunmen. Assir's whereabouts are unknown.
Protests and demonstrations in support of Assir took place across the country in response to the recent battle, a video of abuse by Lebanese soldiers and outrage over other recent events that some felt targeted the Sunni community.
Worshipers assembled at Zaatari Mosque in Sidon for a mass prayer. After the prayer, hundreds of protesters forced their way into Assir's building complex in the Abra suburb. The Army failed to stop the protesters with a volley of gunfire in the air.
In Tripoli, gunmen took to the streets and fired shots into the air as protesters gathered in solidarity with Assir. A number of gunmen and hundreds of protesters gathered in Downtown Tripoli and placed a large poster of Assir.
A similar protest in solidarity with Assir was also held in the Tariq al-Jadideh area of Beirut organized by Hizb ut-Tahrir.
In Sidon, streets around the Zaatari Mosque were closed to accommodate the large gathering that was watched by a large number of police and Army soldiers. Sidon politician and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora also attended the prayers.
Sidon's Mufti Sheikh Salim Sousan demanded an investigation into a video allegedly depicting troops beating a detained civilian.
“We call for a fair, objective, legitimate and transparent investigation with some military groups that tarnished the image of the military institution by the practice of beating, abuse and ill-treatment,” Sousan told thousands of worshipers at Zaatari Mosque in Sidon’s main Nejmeh Square.
He also demanded an investigation into the Abra clashes.
Sidon MP Bahia Hariri has also asked the judiciary to investigate claims that a Sidon man was tortured to death by the Army during a crackdown on supporters of Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir.
The family of Nader Bayoumi, who was in his 30s, said they found evidence of “severe torture” on his body after it was delivered to them by the military.
Some news photographers covering the Sidon rally were harassed by protesters who accused them of taking pictures of the faces.
In his Friday sermon, Sousan said he rejected the use of weapons by any political party.
“We reject outright the use of weapons regardless to which side they belong or under any name, except state weapons,” Sousan said.
He also rejected provocations, arrests and interrogations carried out by “some armed groups.”
Attending the Sidon prayer was Sheikh Ahmad al-Zein, a judge known for his pro-Hezbollah stances. Some in the crowd called for Zein to be removed and killed as they chanted slogans against Hezbollah and its leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and his ally Iran.
Many Sunni officials across Lebanon have accused Hezbollah of fighting alongside the Lebanese Army in its battle against Assir.
The military denied the claims, saying it fought "alone.”