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Lebanese army controls Sidon as Assir flees - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Lebanese army soldiers guard the entrance of the Bilal Bin Rabah mosque in the Abra district of the southern city of Sidon on June 25, 2013. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID

Lebanese army soldiers guard the entrance of the Bilal bin Rabah mosque in the Abra district of the southern city of Sidon on June 25, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Lebanese army took control of the headquarters of radical Islamic cleric Sheikh Ahmad Al-Assir in Sidon on Monday after two days of fighting.

The Lebanese National News Agency (NNA) said the army took control of the buildings surrounding the Bilal bin Rabah mosque, where they found large amounts of weapons and ammunition.

Military judicial authorities have issued warrants for the arrest of Assir and 123 of his followers, who fled the area.

The army said 12 soldiers were killed in the clashes. Some websites said the number of soldiers killed was 20, and that more than 90 were injured.

The NNA said the army carried out a search operation at the complex which forms Assir’s headquarters in Sidon after bringing the situation in Abra, where the incident started, under control.

The army command said its units continued operations in Sidon and Abra in order to end all forms of armed presence and to apprehend the perpetrators who attacked army posts, adding that “some snipers were firing at the army, using religious buildings as cover and innocent people as human shields, in order to avoid direct clashes with the army.”

In response to accusations of targeting mosques, in reference to the clashes around the Bilal bin Rabah mosque, the army stressed its concern for religious places and people’s lives, calling on “the insurgents who attacked army posts and people, and who are known to us individually, to lay down arms, and surrender to the army immediately, in order to avoid further bloodshed.”

The army command went on to say “the army will continue to uproot sedition and its operations will not end until peace and security are completely restored to the city and its suburbs.”

The clashes erupted when gunmen loyal to Assir opened fire on Sunday at an army checkpoint in Abra, east of Sidon. Assir accuses the army of supporting Shi’ite Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that militia loyal to both sides blocked roads in Beirut. It also said some Sunni mosques in Tripoli and Beirut called for holy war in support of Assir.