Lebanese army ramps up fight against radicals after Sidon deaths

Published June 24th, 2013 - 05:37 GMT
LEBANON, Tripoli : A youth walks past burning tires across a street in the northern city of Tripoli, on June 23, 2013, during protests in support of Sunni Muslim Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir whose supporters have clashed with the Lebanese army in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon. (Credit: AFP)
LEBANON, Tripoli : A youth walks past burning tires across a street in the northern city of Tripoli, on June 23, 2013, during protests in support of Sunni Muslim Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir whose supporters have clashed with the Lebanese army in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon. (Credit: AFP)

The Lebanese army said early on Monday it regained control of an area surrounding a mosque in the southern city of Sidon where radicals, loyal to a Sunni cleric wanted by the army, killed ten of its soldiers.

“An armed group loyal to Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir attacked, for no reason, a Lebanese Army checkpoint in the village of Abra” on the outskirts of Sidon on Sunday, the statement said, local Lebanese press reported.

According to a Lebanese security official, ten soldiers were killed and 40 wounded, and at least two gunmen were shot dead and 13 others were injured by the army.

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The army was reported to have said it will not stop its fight in Sidon until Assir is detained.

The fighting began on Sunday when Assir loyalists flared up volence, the army said in a statement.

The controversial Sunni sheikh called on his supporters last week to fire on apartments in Abra that he says house Hezbollah members.

Abra is home to a mosque where Assir leads the main weekly prayers on Fridays. The sheikh believes Hezbollah uses the Abra apartments to keep him under surveillance.

His supporters clashed with Hezbollah in Abra last week in fighting that left one man dead.

Assir was unknown until around two years ago, when he rose to prominence over his radical opposition to Hezbollah and its ally, the Damascus regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria-related tensions have soared in Lebanon, deepening sectarian rifts between Sunnis and Shiites.

Shiite Hezbollah supports Assad’s regime, while the Sunni-dominated opposition backs the rebels fighting it.

During Sunday’s fighting, Assir distributed a video message via mobile phone addressed to his supporters.

“We are being attacked by the Lebanese army,” Assir said, describing the military as “sectarian” and accusing it of supporting Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

“I call on everyone... to cut off roads and to all honorable soldiers, Sunni and non-Sunni, to quit the army immediately,” Assir said in the message.

He urged supporters across Lebanon to flock to Abra “to help defend our religion, our honor and our women.”

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