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Lebanese troops killed in Sidon clashes - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Lebanese army soldiers point their weapons during clashes with gunmen of hardline Sunni Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir, in Abra near Sidon, southern Lebanon, June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Sharif Karim

Lebanese army soldiers point their weapons during clashes with gunmen of hardline Sunni Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmed Al-Asir, in Abra, near Sidon, southern Lebanon, on June 24, 2013. (REUTERS/Sharif Karim)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Clashes erupted in Sidon between the Lebanese army and supporters of radical Sunni cleric Ahmad Al-Asir on Sunday. The army said Asir supporters opened fire on a checkpoint in Abra, near Sidon, without provocation, killing a number of soldiers.

The army issued a statement after the attack that said: “The army has tried for many months to distance Lebanon from the events in Syria, and rejected repeated political demands to curb Al-Asir’s group in Sidon, in eagerness to avoid sedition, and to allow all political parties to operate freely, under the umbrella of the law.”

The attack on the checkpoint in Sidon yesterday killed two officers and four soldiers. The army launched an operation to surround Asir’s headquarters east of Sidon, and clashes continued throughout the night, resulting another six deaths, and up to 40 injured among the army.

Reactions supporting the Lebanese army flooded social media websites. However, Asir released a video on YouTube calling on Sunni members of the Lebanese army to defect and join his forces, who he said were under attack from a “sectarian” army.

President Michel Suleiman said that he had given the army “full authority to hit the aggressors and bring the perpetrators to justice.” He also called a ministerial security meeting in Ba’abda on Monday.

In a meeting with interior minister Marwan Charbel and the army chief-of-staff, Gen. Jean Qahwaji, Suleiman said the call for army officers to defect and fight against the army would only serve the interests of the enemies of Lebanon, and that Lebanese and Palestinians citizens, as well as army members, would not listen to such calls.

Meanwhile, Tammam Salam, Lebanon’s prime minister designate, said: “the army and security forces must deal with the situation as fast as possible and arrest the perpetrators, and end the armed presence which threatens peace and security in Sidon.”

He called on “all political parties to stand behind the army and security forces, in order to end the clashes which have become a burden to everybody.”

Former prime minister Saad Al-Hariri said all measures must be taken to protect the people of Sidon from the threats that engulf Lebanon. In a statement issued yesterday, he said: “It is mainly Hezbollah’s fault for provoking people in Sidon by spreading security points throughout the area, but that should not be used as an excuse to break the law and use arms against Lebanese army stations, or any legitimate security forces.”

He called on everyone “to avoid being dragged into negative reactions which may cover the excesses of Hezbollah, and give some parties an excuse to achieve their political aims.”

Supporters of Asir have reportedly attempted to extend the fighting to other areas, including Beirut. The army however, claims that it has prevented the violence from spreading.

By Monday afternoon, Lebanese troops had surrounded a mosque complex on the east side of Sidon, where Asir and a large numbers of his followers are believed to be based.

Security sources told Reuters news agency that the army had agreed a ceasefire with Asir’s forces inside the mosque after 24 hours of fighting.

The army also updated its list of casualties on Monday, saying that 17 soldiers had been killed in the fighting, with more than 60 wounded.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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