Supporters of the Lebanese Sunni Islamist Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir, who is a fierce
critic of Hezbollah's military intervention in neighboring Syria, attacked
members of the country’s army early Sunday afternoon near the southern city of
Sidon, killing at least four soldiers, according to a report in the Lebanese
Two fighters affiliated with Assir’s forces were killed and
an additional six Lebanese soldiers were wounded in ongoing fighting that
continued into the evening hours.
The army released a statement saying
that the armed group affiliated with Assir attacked its soldiers in cold blood
“without any reason,” according to the report.
“What happened today in
Sidon went beyond all expectations. The Army was attacked cold-bloodedly and
with the intent of setting off the explosion in Sidon as in 1975 [the beginning
of Lebanon’s Civil War] with the purpose of plunging Lebanon into the cycle of
violence,” the Army said in a statement.
Assir called on Sunni soldiers
to desert the army, according to the report.
Meanwhile, president Michel
Suleiman called for an emergency meeting on Monday.
Sources told Reuters
that fighting in the Sunni dominated city broke out when a follower of Sheikh
Assir was arrested at an army roadblock in Sidon, 40 km (28 miles) south of
According to the Lebanon Now website, the Lebanese army deployed
reinforcements to the area and announced it had “taken necessary measures” to
restore order and arrest the perpetrators.
The recent outburst of
violence follows weeks of sectarian tension and violence mainly between
pro-Hezbollah Shi’ite forces in Lebanon and the Sunni dominated opposition,
reflecting the same Sunni-Shi’ite conflict playing itself out in Syria as
Hezbollah and Iran fight to keep the Alawite Syrian president Bashar Assad in
In a show of solidarity with Assir’s forces, Sunni forces in the
northern Lebanese city of Tripoli cut off part of the city by burning tires
while gunshots could be heard, according to Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation
International (LBCI) “Hezbollah bears the major responsibility for the sin,”
said Saad Hariri, the former Prime Minister from 2009-2011 and a Sunni leader of
the anti-Hezbollah forces. He blamed Hezbollah for provoking the violence
against the citizens of the town, according to the Lebanese daily
The question that needs to be answered is how this started, was
it the army picking a fight with Assir’s people and if so who in the army made
that decision; or was it a move by Assir’s forces to demonstrate its resolve to
the Sunni street? “The army is viewed with a lot of suspicion by Sunnis in
Lebanon, because it always cracks down on them and not on Hezbollah,” said Tony
Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in an
interview with The Jerusalem Post.
He says that Assir, a young Salafi militant,
“is trying to take advantage of the Sunni community’s discontent in order to
position himself as the vanguard of the community against Hezbollah’s domination
of the state.” Badran says that Hezbollah has infiltrated parts of the
Michael Young, the opinion editor at the Daily Star
that the Sunni community “risks being defined by its extremists because [its]
mainstream leadership is absent.”Reuters contributed to this report.