Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Calm was restored to Sidon in southern Lebanon on Saturday, a day after demonstrations in solidarity with Sunni preacher Sheikh Assir swept the city following clashes between his militia and the Lebanese armed forces.
Political tensions remain, amid demands for the Lebanese army to clarify Hezbollah’s involvement during the clashes that took place in the Abra district of the city.
In a move to dispel concerns about arbitrary arrests in Sidon, the government commissioner to the military tribunal, Judge Saqr Saqr, yesterday ordered the release of 29 people detained in the recent clashes, bringing the total number released so far to 101.
According to Lebanon’s National News Agency, there are currently 40 detainees being investigated by the Intelligence Directorate. It was also noted that the buildings and compounds that had been occupied by security forces have been returned to their owners.
At the same time, the Bilal bin Rabah mosque, where Sheikh Assir led worship, was handed over to the regional Mufti of Sidon, Sheikh Salim Sousan. The mufti announced that he would follow up “the issue of detainees within legal proceedings of due process through a government committee in our city, in order to return these apartments and houses to their owners and compensate them.”
He added that some of the detainees may be guilty, and others may be innocent. Sousan also pointed out that he had received a list of detainees on Friday, and that “in the next few days, many of them will be released.”
Controversy continued over the death of Nader Bayoumi, who was arrested during the clashes between the Lebanese army and supporters of Assir. Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation into the allegations of torture that allegedly took place before his death.
Nadim Houry, director of the Human Rights Watch office in Lebanon stressed the need for “a judicial inquiry into the circumstances of the young man’s death.” He also highlighted the necessity for “an independent judicial inquiry” into all violations attributed to the military, and that “a military investigation is not sufficient.”
Although the conditions on the ground were peaceful, leaders from the Future Movement demanded the military to clarify the situation. MP Nouhad Machnouk called on the Army Command to “issue a statement with clear and solid answers as to what happened in Abra.”
Machnouk also appealed for the Lebanese army to “determine the nature of Hezbollah’s involvement in the clashes at Abra.” He said that he believed that the causes for Sheikh Assir’s actions were still present, despite the military operations carried out by the army.
Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, attempted to defuse the situation and rejected what he described as “a campaign to tarnish the image of the army.” He stressed that “there is no justification for it.”
Jumblatt also stressed that it was “in the interests of all Lebanese to promote a moderate logic instead of falling into the trap of extremism and sectarianism, which, if it grows, will become a monster.”
He added: “the fastest and most effective way to achieve this goal is by supporting the state and its institutions, especially the army and security forces.”