SIDON, Lebanon: A strike by Sidon’s rival political leaders, public figures and businesspersons that had been planned to take place next week in protest of Sheikh Ahmad Assir’s blockage of a key highway was postponed Sunday.
“Sidon’s Traders Association announces that there will no longer be a strike on Monday after serious initiatives by the prime minister and interior minister toward reaching a solution,” a statement by the group said.
However, The Daily Star has learned that the delay of the planned sit-in came as a result of a dispute over the wording of the statement that would have announced the strike.
Participants differed over the inclusion of a clause in the statement denouncing recent public disorder by supporters of the Popular Nasserite Organization last week.
Mohammad Dimassi, a trader whose business has been negatively affected by Assir’s sit-in, denounced the decision to delay the strike and said it hampered efforts by Sidon MPs Bahia Hariri and Osama Saad to reach a solution.
Hariri spent Friday visiting local politicians and religious leaders to discuss the possibility of adopting a unified stance opposing Assir’s sit-in.
Hariri visited Saad, the head of the Popular Nasserite Organization, for the first time since 2009, when the results of the parliamentary elections froze relations between the two as Saad lost his seat to former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of the Future Movement.
Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Fouad Siniora, who hails from Sidon, urged Assir Sunday to re-consider the continuation of his open sit-in.
“I wish Sheikh Ahmad Assir would re-consider this step and ask himself if he has been able to achieve the goals set for the sit-in or if the sit-in has united Sidon residents,” Siniora told reporters in the southern coastal.
The Future Movement politician added that it would not indicate failure if Assir called off his sit-in and said the controversial sheikh could adopt other peaceful means of achieving his objectives.
Assir’s sit-in has increasingly become a flashpoint for tension and violence. A scuffle late Thursday afternoon between Assir supporters and motorists commuting to south Lebanon included the roughing up of two men by the sheikh’s supporters and police, followed later by the smashing of shop windows by those opposed to Assir.
On Friday Assir ignored a warning not to extend his sit-in beyond its current boundaries on Sidon’s eastern highway shortly after the warning was delivered to him by police officers.
Assir and some 700 supporters left their campsite on Sidon’s eastern highway and made for the coastal road, blocking it for 15 minutes.
Just before Friday prayers, a group of men angered by Assir’s sit-in burned tires less than one kilometer from Assir's campsite, demanding Lebanese authorities reopen the highway.