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Lebanon: Two killed in clashes between Assir, pro-Hezbollah supporters

Published on: June 18, 2013

Two people were killed Tuesday and several others were wounded in south Lebanon during clashes between supporters of Sheikh Ahmad Assir and the Resistance Brigades, a pro-Hezbollah group, security sources told The Daily Star.

The fighting broke out after members of the Resistance Brigades opened fire outside the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque, where Assir holds sermons, the sources said.

A volley of rocket-propelled grenades was also fired at Abra, a neighborhood that lies east of the southern coastal city of Sidon. It was not yet clear who fired the grenades, the sources added.

Assir’s supporters claimed that rocket-propelled grenades and sometimes mortar bombs were fired at the mosque from Mar Elias and Haret Saida, both strongholds of Hezbollah and Amal.

Tension soured as a result of the fighting.

Crying children were evacuated from one local kindergarten. Other kindergartens considered similar measures.

The Army, which had been stationed around the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque, withdrew from the area and blocked the road leading to the neighborhood soon after the violence erupted, the sources said.

In a statement, the Army warned gunmen in the area to vacate the streets.

“The Army command warns all gunmen to immediately withdraw from the streets and it will not allow the spread of chaos and will open fire on any armed [person] and respond to sources of fire in kind,” the Army said.

The military said the gunmen appeared on the streets of Abra after a road incident earlier in the day.

“At 3 p.m. and upon a road incident in Abra, gunmen deployed in Abra and began firing [with the aim] of intimidation which led to wounded among citizens. This coincided with other individuals blocking the coastal highway as well as the eastern highway,” the Army said.

“Army units deployed in the area intervened [as a result] and were reinforced and are working on removing the armed presence, reopening roads and restoring calm,” it added.

Earlier during the day, security sources said a man identified as Mahmoud Al-Sous vandalized a van owned by Assir’s brother, Amjad, breaking its windows.

Negotiations had been under way with the Sunni preacher throughout the period of fighting and a cease-fire seemed to have emerged in the evening.

At 6.30 p.m., 20 armored personnel carriers belonging to the Army gathered at the entrance of Abra following the tentative cease-fire.

Two of the APCs were fired upon as they entered the neighborhood, which prompted the military to respond to the sources of fire. The gunmen then tried blocking the road with a car, which the military rapidly rammed through.

The remaining APCs entered the area minutes later and some 400 soldiers deployed after Sidon’s mufti urged the gunmen to withdraw to allow the military to fulfill its task of restoring order.

The gunmen had earlier ignored the mufti’s plea but then complied after a further request.

Residents told The Daily Star that Assir has been threatening to break into apartments which he claims are owned by armed members of Hezbollah in the area.

Assir has previously warned that he would personally deal with the problem of armed Hezbollah members monitoring his movements and occupying at least two apartments surrounding the Abra mosque.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati followed up on the security situation in Sidon in contacts with caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and heads of security apparatuses, his office said.

Mikati renewed his call that “everyone exercise wisdom and calm at this tense period that we are going through and to stay away from reactions that negatively affect everyone.”

Sidon MP Bahia Hariri contacted President Michel Sleiman and urged him to call for the deployment of the Army and security forces in Sidon in order “to restore stability and security for the city and its residents,” the National News Agency reported.

The NNA report said the president informed Hariri that the Army would take all the needed measures to bring the situation in Abra and Sidon under control.

Hariri also contacted caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, Army chief Maj. Gen. Jean Kahwagi over the situation in the southern city, the NNA said.

(Daily Star – Lebanon)

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