Assir might form military armed wing: source
November 13, 2012
SIDON, Lebanon: Two slain bodyguards of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir were laid to rest in Sidon Monday, as sources said that the controversial preacher might form his own armed wing.
Ali Samhoun and Lubnan al-Azi were shot dead Sunday when a quarrel between Assir’s supporters and Hezbollah members in the Taamir area of the city turned into an armed clash.
An Egyptian youth, Ali Sharbini, was caught in the crossfire and killed as well. Five others, including Sidon-based Hezbollah official Sheikh Zeid Daher, were wounded.
Footage aired by LBCI Monday showed an argument break out as Assir and his supporters attempted to tear down a Hezbollah banner.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that there was an official decision to stabilize the security situation in Sidon, adding that strife will not happen in the southern coastal city.
There was a clear armed presence outside Sidon’s Martyrs’ Mosque at the funeral procession for Samhoun and Azzia, Sidon officials said.
Instead of heading toward Sidon’s cemetery as expected, around 100 armed Assir supporters and the preacher headed toward al-Karama Square, the site of their most recent sit-in, chanting slogans against Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah. The two bodyguards were laid to rest there.
A local official, who insisted on anonymity, said that amid the tense atmosphere Assir could be planning to form an armed wing.
“What happened in Taamir won’t stop with the funeral Monday. Assir is definitely preparing new moves, and taking up arms remains a possibility,” the official said.
“In a matter of days, Assir could call for the establishment of a military wing and describe it as similar to Hezbollah’s,” the official said. “He would justify it by calling it a resistance group against Israel.”
The officials said Assir might also hold further demonstrations and sit-ins.
After prayers at the mosque, Assir appealed to his supporters to exercise calm and pray for the souls of Sundays dead rather than shooting into the air.
Following a call by the city’s Merchants’ Association for a strike to condemn the incident and show respect for the victims, schools and shops shut their doors Monday.
The Army and Internal Security Forces beefed up their presence across the city shortly after the deadly incident, but many residents remained concerned about the repercussions of the clash.
Until Sunday there had been no major violence in Sidon since the unrest began in Syria. Locals now must confront the possibility that the perpetrators may not be arrested and their safety is no longer guaranteed.
Sidon officials told The Daily Star that the city is stuck between an atmosphere of hope for salvaging “what is left of the state’s authority,” and a feeling of uncertainty about the future.
President Michel Sleiman warned Monday of the potential for strife and called on security and judiciary officials to arrest those involved in the clashes.
Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, who paid her condolences to the bodyguards’ families, said the city wants no weapons other than the legitimate arms of the state.
“Sidon does not want to see anything other than legitimate arms; Sidon only wants justice and stability. Stability cannot be achieved without justice,” Hariri said during a meeting with Brig. Gen. Tarek Abdallah, the ISF commander in south Lebanon.
Hariri also phoned Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to discuss the city’s security and the recent developments.
Future Movement leader Fouad Siniora made a number of phone calls to Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Charbel Monday to stress the need for bolstering Sidon’s security and arresting all who violate the law.
Siniora also called Assir to urge calm in the coming days.