Lebanese army seizes Assir’s Mosque complex

sidon clashes 062413
Lebanese army commandos seized Monday the Mosque complex belonging to Sheikh Ahmad Assir in the southern coastal city of Sidon, in the second day of clashes between the military and gunmen loyal to the militant preacher that have claimed the lives of at least 17 soldiers and more than 25 gunmen.

Army eavesdropping devices indicated that Assir was still in the vicinity of the complex, the sources said, adding that the fiery sheikh was heard as urging his gunmen not to surrender to the military and “fight to the death.”

The sources said despite having taken control of the complex, soldiers were still trading gunfire with snipers located on the rooftops of nearby buildings.

They said the military has also captured 30 members of Assir’s group.

Lebanon’s military prosecutor issued arrest warrants against Assir and 123 of his followers, a judicial source told The Daily Star. The warrants included the names of Assir’s brother and singer Fadl Shaker who gave up his singing career to follow the radical sheikh, they added.

Two dead supporters of Sheikh Assir
Two dead supporters of Sheikh Assir

The seizure of the complex at noon came after an attempt late Monday by a group of Salafi preachers to mediate a truce reached a dead end, with the Army determined to continue its operations until Assir was captured and his followers crushed, the sources said.

In overnight fighting, the Army had tightened the noose around Assir and his some 250 gunmen barricaded in the Abra complex, 40 km south of Beirut, the sources said.

Fighting erupted Sunday after armed supporters of Assir attacked a military checkpoint near the Abra complex, killing three soldiers and wounding several others.

Pitched battles ensued as the Army, which vowed to respond with an iron fist to the “cold-blooded” attack, stormed Assir-held Abra.

At least 14 more soldiers were killed and more than 65 wounded. At least two civilians also died in the clashes, which brought Sidon to a standstill.

A security meeting of senior officials headed by President Michel Sleiman backed Monday Army efforts to restore security in the southern city and prevent the spread of paramilitary groups there.

Hundreds of civilians were trapped in the fighting Sunday and Monday with some making appeals on local television stations for the Army to secure a safe passage for them.

An apartment block said to house Assir’s house was set ablaze by rocket-propelled grenades while other buildings and dozens of cars were damaged.

Ambulances and civil defense units were also unable to gain access to the tiny neighborhood.

The Baabda Palace meeting called for measures to evacuate civilians from the conflict zones.

The sources said one of the two civilian fatalities occurred in the Taamir area of the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, where militants fought Army positions early Monday in an attempt to relieve the pressure off Abra. Two soldiers were also wounded in that area.

Sources said that a truce was secured in Taamir at around 1.30 p.m.

Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas, contacted Monday Speaker Nabih Berri and stressed the need to keep the Palestinian refugee camps neutral from the events in Sidon, Berri’s office told The Daily Star.

Heavy traffic straddled Sidon’s coastal highway from the south in the morning hours as motorists made their way to the Lebanese capital following weekend retreats.

“I felt trapped in my car waiting to get passed the security checkpoint on the seaside road,” one motorist, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

“The sound of gunfire is just non-stop and the smoke over the city can be seen from miles away,” the motorist, speaking from Sidon, added.

Meanwhile, supporters of Assir in north Lebanon protested in front of the residence of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Gunmen in the Beddawi area near Tripoli also opened fire and forced businesses to close ahead of plans to block the Abel-Hamid Karami square with burning tires.

The fighting, which the Army said was reminiscent of events preceding Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War, highlighted the increasing impact of the conflict in Syria on its small neighbor.

Assir is a staunch supporter of rebels seeking the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad and an outspoken critic of Hezbollah.

He had stepped up his rhetoric against Hezbollah, in ferocious sectarian tone, since the powerful group announced in April that it was fighting alongside Assad’s forces.

The Daily star

Photo: Lebanese army soldiers, take their positions behind an armored vehilce, as the lifeless body of a solider lays, background, after clashes between followers of a radical Sunni cleric Sheik Ahmad al-Assir and Shiite gunmen, in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Sunday, June 23, 2013. A Lebanese security official says clashes have erupted in the south between Lebanese factions supporting opposing sides in the Syrian civil war. Several of Lebanese soldiers were killed and wounded. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

  • libnan1

    Bulldoze the place down and make a shrine for the fallen LA personnel. Hang that bastard Asir right in Nigme square next to Hariri’s monument.

    • 5thDrawer

      Enough ‘shrines’ to stupidity already, Libnan1. Maybe add a series of brass plaques to Hariri’s.

      • libnan1

        You call dying for country stupidity, I’m starting to wonder about you 5th ….

        • 5thDrawer

          Military Monuments should be separate – fine – but you know I talk about the stupidity over the religious brainwashing.

          • MekensehParty

            Don’t let this fake poet embarrass you
            Dying for a (failed) country is stupidity.
            The soldiers who died following orders from above, who are puppets in the hands of Hezbollah died stupidly and no one will be singing songs for them.
            Whether they knew it or not, those kids in the morgue now died for Hezbollah not Lebanon.

          • libnan1

            Believe it or not many in HA died for Lebanon too.

          • MekensehParty

            Many other groups, parties or sects “died for Lebanon” none of them is behaving like Hezbollah.
            again and again, double-standards logic
            even the fpm’s “martyrs” are 2nd class martyrs when compared to Hezbollah’s and you know it better than me

          • libnan1

            The LA martyrs are 1st class. FPM is not and was never a militia or a fighting force, Some of us died demonstrating against the Syrian occupation, that was on the watch of Hariri Sr. when he was in love Assad back then.

          • MekensehParty

            ok you were not the fpm then, but aoun’s army was a militia and it was defined as a militia by your present friends. When the Syrians entered baabda and shot aoun’s soldiers while he was speeding away to the French embassy, they were killing militiamen and not Lebanese soldiers. The official Lebanese army was under the command of your now friend emile lahoud. So yes, you do have martyrs that you seem to have forgotten by befriending those who made them martyrs.
            you say you died demonstrating against the Syrian occupation under Hariri’s tutelage, let me say first that I was there, demonstrating against the Syrians and Hariri’s tutelage, but I did not jump in the lap of the Syrians as soon as it became vacant and started a new love story with them and their proxies…
            Anyway, it’s too late to wake up now, way too late. you’ve surrendered everything already, your martyrs and consciousness included, so please stop the poetry, whatever is left today of the Lebanese state and its army is burning wood for the sake of Hezbollah and his martyrs however they like to define or redefine them.

        • Patience2

          Dying for country, fine. Dying for religion, bogus.

    • MekensehParty

      A big bulldozer is already on the move ya libnan1 but not only in Saida, Tripoli and the bekaa but all of Lebanon including these Christian mountains you think you’re safe in.
      Don’t go cry later that “they” fueled the war when each Lebanese is a bulldozer driver ready to level down the whole country.

      • 5thDrawer

        Latest count I have in Tripoli from one hospital is 26 dead … no notes on wounded … supplies at a premium … ‘elective surgeries’ may take some time to be done – assuming one had the money for them.

      • libnan1

        My home mountains were bulldozed long time ago by collaborators.

        • MekensehParty

          And yet you still talk of bulldozers…

        • 5thDrawer

          I like to think that some day you could say ‘our’ rather than ‘my’.
          But then I’m just an old dog who dreams ….

    • kamille1

      damn i never thought u and i will ever agree on anything..lol

  • libnan1

    Bulldoze the place down and make a shrine for the fallen LA personnel. Hang that bastard Asir right in Nigme square next to Hariri’s monument.

    • 5thDrawer

      Enough ‘shrines’ to stupidity already, Libnan1. Maybe add a series of brass plaques to Hariri’s.

      • libnan1

        You call dying for country stupidity, I’m starting to wonder about you 5th ….

        • 5thDrawer

          Military Monuments should be separate – fine – but you know I talk about the stupidity over the religious brainwashing.

          • MekensehParty

            Don’t let this fake poet embarrass you
            Dying for a (failed) country is stupidity.
            The soldiers who died following orders from above, who are puppets in the hands of Hezbollah died stupidly and no one will be singing songs for them.
            Whether they knew it or not, those kids in the morgue now died for Hezbollah not Lebanon.

          • libnan1

            Believe it or not many in HA died for Lebanon too.

          • MekensehParty

            Many other groups, parties or sects “died for Lebanon” none of them is behaving like Hezbollah.
            again and again, double-standards logic
            even the fpm’s “martyrs” are 2nd class martyrs when compared to Hezbollah’s and you know it better than me

          • libnan1

            The LA martyrs are 1st class. FPM is not and was never a militia or a fighting force, Some of us died demonstrating against the Syrian occupation, that was on the watch of Hariri Sr. when he was in love Assad back then.

          • MekensehParty

            ok you were not the fpm then, but aoun’s army was a militia and it was defined as a militia by your present friends. When the Syrians entered baabda and shot aoun’s soldiers while he was speeding away to the French embassy, they were killing militiamen and not Lebanese soldiers. The official Lebanese army was under the command of your now friend emile lahoud. So yes, you do have martyrs that you seem to have forgotten by befriending those who made them martyrs.
            you say you died demonstrating against the Syrian occupation under Hariri’s tutelage, let me say first that I was there, demonstrating against the Syrians and Hariri’s tutelage, but I did not jump in the lap of the Syrians as soon as it became vacant and started a new love story with them and their proxies…
            Anyway, it’s too late to wake up now, way too late. you’ve surrendered everything already, your martyrs and consciousness included, so please stop the poetry, whatever is left today of the Lebanese state and its army is burning wood for the sake of Hezbollah and his martyrs however they like to define or redefine them.

        • Patience2

          Dying for country, fine. Dying for religion, bogus.

    • MekensehParty

      A big bulldozer is already on the move ya libnan1 but not only in Saida, Tripoli and the bekaa but all of Lebanon including these Christian mountains you think you’re safe in.
      Don’t go cry later that “they” fueled the war when each Lebanese is a bulldozer driver ready to level down the whole country.

      • 5thDrawer

        Latest count I have in Tripoli from one hospital is 26 dead … no notes on wounded … supplies at a premium …

      • libnan1

        My home mountains were bulldozed long time ago by collaborators.

        • MekensehParty

          And yet you still talk of bulldozers…

        • 5thDrawer

          I like to think that some day you could say ‘our’ rather than ‘my’.
          But then I’m just an old dog who dreams ….

    • kamille1

      damn i never thought u and i will ever agree on anything..lol

  • Beauty-Full-Lebanon

    Here is an idea to Lebanese Government: designate 2 fighting zones for gunmen to fight , one in the north and one in south, any one wants fighting go there and let them kill each another ( you may want to give them weapons also, just to help their killing instincts) , and also , set check points that who ever goes there does not come back .and crush any one fights in cities, Innocent people deserve peace.

  • Beauty-Full-Lebanon

    Here is an idea to Lebanese Government: designate 2 fighting zones for gunmen to fight , one in the north and one in south, any one wants fighting go there and let them kill each another to death ( you may want to give them weapons also, just to help their killing instincts) , and also , set check points that who ever goes there does not come back .and crush any one fights in cities, Innocent people deserve peace.

  • Hannibal

    and it begins…

    • 5thDrawer

      Seems so Hannibal. 🙁 And virtually NOTHING about what’s going on in Tripoli … too strange.
      All ‘news’ seems only about Sidon … although there’s a touch on it here.
      Also read that the ‘men on rooftops’ around the ‘Abra complex’ were Hezzbolla. I think the Army better get a real handle on their situation … and get some of their own on the high spots.

      • Patience2

        Maybe now the people (the hard-working, honest ones) of Lebanon will start to see the true nature of the hezbians. Rooftops, indeed!

  • Hannibal

    and it begins…

    • 5thDrawer

      Seems so Hannibal. 🙁 And virtually NOTHING about what’s going on in Tripoli … too strange.

      • Patience2

        Maybe now the people (the hard-working, honest ones) of Lebanon will start to see the true nature of the hezbians. Rooftops, indeed!

  • Patience2

    I’ll not be surprised if there’s a weapons cache in the ‘basement’.

  • Patience2

    I’ll not be surprised if there’s a weapons cache in the ‘basement’.