SIDON, Lebanon: Controversial Sheikh Ahmad Assir appeared to back down Sunday from his calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah, saying his peaceful protest in the southern city of Sidon had aimed all along at calling for controls on the resistance's arsenal.
“I did not ask that Hezbollah’s arsenal be disarmed but rather that they be organized because the dialogue sessions have not achieved anything over the past several years,” the preacher told reporters in an informal chat, referring to the recent relaunch of intra-Lebanese talks aimed at benefiting from the resistance’s divisive arms.
Assir launched the open-ended sit-in, to the disapproval of local Sidon figures, Thursday and said the protest would continue until a solution to the issue of Hezbollah's arms is devised.
Asked how his supporters would react should authorities resort to violent measures to end the sit-in, Assir said Sunday his supporters would prepare coffins and “the martyrs will be buried there, and not at the city’s cemetery.”
Assir’s sit-in has blocked the highway connecting Sidon to south Lebanon, a move that officials in the city say will have negative consequences economically as well as create unnecessary traffic.
Sidon businessmen also organized a peaceful protest Saturday and condemned the sit-in, saying it was negatively affecting their businesses.
Bulldozers brought by the city’s businessmen worked Sunday on introducing a side road that would by-pass the road blocked by the preacher’s supporters.
Assir also said Sunday that he had been misinterpreted by the media in terms of the level of participation in the sit-in and that the protest could see participation from other parts of the country such as Tripoli in the north and the Bekaa in the east.
Although more tents were erected early in the morning, a number of Assir’s supporters began placing a barbed fence some meters from the protest site, in an indication that the sit-in tents might be relocated.
Assir has repeatedly criticized Hezbollah's arsenal and demanded the resistance party surrender its weapons.