SIDON, Lebanon: The security situation in Sidon is not expected to improve in the coming year unless Lebanon’s political crisis is solved, political and security sources from the city said, as a year marred by security incidents draws to a close.
The sources, requesting anonymity, said that 2013, which had numerous security incidents, had been the most difficult for the city since the strife Lebanon witnessed in May 2008.
“Only a political agreement between rival parties in the country will totally defuse tension in the city,” one of the sources told The Daily Star Thursday. The source expected tension in Sidon to continue into next year.
The sources said that while the southern city was able to overcome the security incidents it witnessed during the year, the repercussions of these events on Sidon’s security and economy were expected to continue.
“Any of these incidents has not been totally closed, as the perpetrators of most of them – like the Taamir Ain al-Hilweh clash for example – remain at large,” one of the sources said. He was referring to clashes between supporters of fugitive firebrand Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir and gunmen from Hezbollah in Sidon’s Taamir Ain al-Hilweh neighborhood in November 2012.
The sources added that other factors keeping tension high in the city included the fact that some security incidents lacked proper investigations, and that the state was not implementing the law equally on all residents of Sidon.
“All this has made residents of Sidon feel [a sense of injustice and] that they are being left by the state [to fend for themselves],” a source said.
During 2013, Sidon witnessed a number of security incidents, many of which were linked to the war in neighboring Syria.
In January, armed clashes broke out between gunmen from the pro- Hezbollah Popular Nasserite Organization, headed by former Sidon MP Osama Saad, and fighters from the Hezbollah-affiliated Resistance Brigades, leaving one dead.
Residents of the city have been complaining about the “thuggish” behavior of the Resistance Brigades. In November, gunmen from the group smashed the façade of a shop owned by a resident of the Bustan al-Kabeer neighborhood. Several fighters from the Resistance Brigades were arrested by the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch following the incident, but they were released shortly afterward.
The first half of 2013 witnessed a series of anti- Hezbollah demonstrations by Assir and his supporters, who blocked roads and squares.
The security situation dramatically deteriorated in June, when Army units clashed with Assir’s gunmen in Sidon’s Abra suburb. At least 18 soldiers were killed in the battle along with dozens of fighters of Assir, who remains at large.
On Nov. 19, Mouein Abu Daher, an Assir’s supporter, carried out a suicide attack against the Iranian Embassy in Beirut alongside a Palestinian who lived in southern Lebanon. The news had no security repercussions on Sidon.
However, weeks later, supporters of Assir staged two suicide attacks against two Army checkpoints in Sidon, killing a first sergeant and wounding three soldiers.
The Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh on the outskirts of Sidon witnessed a series of clashes between Fatah Movement gunmen and others from Islamist groups throughout the year. Receiving thousands of Palestinian refugees from Syria, the camp remains prone to instability.
The sources said that despite all these events, Sidon residents remained committed to peace, stability and coexistence. They also adhered to the state as the only authority tasked with maintaining security.
The sources said that Sidon was able to restore calm after each security incident that occurred in 2013 due to the vigilance of its people and the swift action by prominent figures.
They added that Sidon had a safety net that was protecting the city from consequences of any security incident.
These include gatherings of Sidon’s prominent figures, politicians and religious leaders such as the Sidon Consultative Gathering and the Spiritual Gathering that inform security and judicial authorities in the wake of each incident.
The sources added that cooperation between Palestinian secular and Islamist factions in Ain al-Hilweh contributed to keeping things under control as well. A united leadership for all these groups was formed in 2013 and a joint force deployed in the camp to preserve security.