SIDON, Lebanon: Sidon Mufti Sheikh Salim Sousan said Sunday the cases of those arrested for alleged involvement in the Abra clashes should be followed up, while characterizing the Hezbollah-linked Resistance Brigades as a disruptive entity in the southern city.
In an interview with The Daily Star, the mufti said the issue of the arrested individuals would be taken up with relevant officials by a delegation from Sidon scheduled to meet with President Michel Sleiman, among others, to ensure that those found to be innocent of any involvement would be released while those proven to have links to the June clashes would be held accountable.
Sousan’s call comes after Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr sought the indictment of 72 people over the clashes, judicial sources said over the weekend. The clashes had pitted the armed supporters of fugitive Sheikh Ahmad Assir against the Army, killing dozens on both sides.
Saqr referred the case to Military Investigative Judge Riyad Abu Ghayda Saturday requesting the indictment, sources said.
Forty-eight of the suspects have been detained, 16 are at large while authorities are still trying to determine the identities of the remaining eight in order to locate and detain them, the sources said.
Dozens of individuals, including Assir, were charged with murder, possessing arms and other crimes.
Assir had originally accused the Resistance Brigades of instigating hostilities, by spying on him and his supporters around the vicinity of the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque, now under the control of the Army.
Sousan said that while the group’s alleged patron, Hezbollah, was not considered a foe, the Resistance Brigades were considered armed thugs by residents in the southern city. Of the group’s origins, the mufti said those details were still shrouded in mystery.
“I wonder who founded them? Who finances them? Who draws their plans? Who protects them? And what role do they play in Sidon and other Lebanese cities?” the mufti asked.
“Is it in the resistance’s interests that these outlaws disrupt the peace of Sidon’s neighborhoods? And for whose benefit do they do this?” Sousan added.
He rejected the presence of armed groups in Sidon, save that of the Army.
“The residents of Sidon want only the state’s security forces to preserve their well-being, and above all the Army,” Sousan said. “ Sidon rejects any armed entity except that of the state’s security forces.”
Sousan said that he had relayed his concerns regarding the presence of the group to several Hezbollah members, but that nothing came of it.
Addressing Hezbollah members, he said, “don’t lose Sidon’s support,” adding that though he sensed that Hezbollah cared about the security situation in the city their “words need to be translated into actions.”
“The state authorities are either not able of changing this reality or they don’t want to change it for certain reasons.”
Sousan said officials in Sidon were committed to preserving coexistence and avoiding Tripoli-style clashes.
“I want to emphasize that Sidon and all its political, social and cultural groups reject sectarian strife, and they are committed to protecting coexistence and keeping the fire of civil strife away from the city,” he said.
Speaking of the Syrian refugee presence in Sidon the mufti said that a “state of emergency” needs to be declared, as the influx continues to tax local communities economically and socially.
“When they came here we did our national and ethical duty to receive them, but as the state continues to be negligent toward these refugees, I have to declare a state of emergency because our resources are limited and because the refugee gatherings are starting to create security and health concerns.”
There are about 50,000 Syrian refugees in Sidon, according to Sousan.
“I have visited the mayor and the governor of the south and asked them to take the necessary measures to preserve the security and stability of the host communities, but until this moment no aid has reached the municipality of Sidon,” he said.