At least four soldiers and two gunmen loyal to an anti-Hezbollah sheikh were killed Sunday in clashes in Abra, east of the southern city of Sidon, security sources said.
The sources said six other soldiers were wounded in the fighting that erupted after 2 p.m. and continued with growing ferocity throughout the evening hours of the day.
The Army said three of its members, including two officers, were killed in the attack on the checkpoint.
“Without any reason, an armed group belonging to Sheikh Ahmad Assir attacked an Army checkpoint in Abra-Sidon, killing two officers and a private; and wounding several others in addition to destroying several military vehicles,” the statement said.
The sources said the military post, located on the road to Abra - not far from the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque where Assir preaches – was struck by rocket-propelled grenades.
They said Assir’s fighters also relied heavily on RPGs in the clashes that ensued. One armored personnel carrier was set ablaze after receiving a direct RPG hit, they said.
Smoke billowed over the neighborhood and at least one building caught fire.
Sidon’s coastal highway, which links Beirut to the rest of the south, was also closed, stranding thousands of motorists.
By late afternoon, rockets were falling in the vicinity of Rabah mosque, the scene of a deadly clash last week between Assir’s supporters and members of the Resistance Brigades, a pro-Hezbollah group. The Army had deployed heavily to end that round of fighting, setting up outposts around Abra.
The sources said that around 5.30 p.m. the Army managed to secure the vicinity around the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque.
In a video posted on Youtube Sunday the fiery preacher urged members of the military to desert.
“To all our partisans, we are being attacked by the Lebanese Army, which is Iranian and Shiite,” Assir said in the video. He said the Army belonged to the “shabiha [thugs]” of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and his ally, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Amal Movement.
“I call on all partisans to block roads and all honorable Sunni and non-Sunni [soldiers] to quit the Army,” added Assir, who appeared in black pants and a black T-shirt with an assault rifle at his side.
The Army said it has taken the necessary measures to restore order and arrest the gunmen.
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