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Assir challenges Hezbollah, Sidon mourns deaths
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SIDON : Sunni preacher Sheikh Ahmad Assir Monday urged his supporters to take up arms against Hezbollah, a day after two of his bodyguards were killed in a shootout with Hezbollah supporters.

Assir blamed Hezbollah, which he refers to as the “weapons’ party,” for the death of his bodyguards.

“The weapons’ party wants to kill us. They killed two of my men. I call on you to take up weapons. But don’t rush or get dragged [into fight],” Assir told supporters who were summoned to attend an emergency meeting that lasted well into the early morning hours.

His declaration coincided with a strike in Sidon to condemn the shooting, linked to mounting tensions over the 20-month-old violence in Syria.

Schools and businesses shut down as Lebanese troops patrolled the streets to maintain law and order. Police also set up checkpoints.

Assir, however, warned his supporters against acting outside of his orders.

“Oh, Assir, here we come!” the crowd responded.

An Egyptian passerby was also killed in the brief clash, which broke out in the Taamir area near the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh Sunday afternoon. Five other people, including Sidon-based Hezbollah official Sheikh Zeid Daher, were wounded.

The shootout followed tension over banners raised by Hezbollah in Sidon marking the party’s Martyrs Day.

The gunfire came two days after Assir, a staunch opponent of Hezbollah, threatened to tear down the party’s banners in Sidon unless security forces in the city removed them.

After the fighting, the Lebanese Army warned it would deal firmly with anyone trying to undermine security in Sidon.

But Assir appeared to be unmoved by the Army’s warning, declaring that only “over my dead body” would Hezbollah raise banners.

“Only over my dead body will a [Hezbollah] yellow flag be put up,” Assir told supporters during the overnight meeting at his headquarters in Abra, east Sidon.

The Merchants’ Association in Sidon and its suburbs called for a strike Monday to condemn the incident and show respect for the victims.

Future Movement Secretary General Ahmad Hariri said Sidon will observe a strike Monday as part of what he called "the ongoing battle with the Iranian-Syrian axis.”

The city’s union of private and public schools also condemned the fighting and called for the suspension of classes Monday for the safety of students.

source Mohammed Zaatari

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