BAALBEK, Lebanon: Tensions were heightened in villages near the Bekaa town of Arsal Wednesday after residents blocked roads upon the news that Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir would be making a visit to the area.
Calm was restored after Assir’s office announced that the controversial Sidon-based cleric would not be making the trip Wednesday, but did not rule out a trip in the future.
Angry protesters blocked the main intersection in the village of Labweh leading to Arsal. They also gathered on the international highway linking Baalbek to Homs in the villages of Telya, al-Ain, Muqna and the northern entrance of Baalbek. Residents of these villages are mainly supporters of Hezbollah.
Assir has been critical of Hezbollah and its leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah as well as Speaker Nabih Berri.
The protests began Tuesday night when rumors emerged that Assir would visit the town in a show of solidarity with Arsal. The Army has been stationed around Arsal since Feb.1, when two soldiers were killed in an ambush by gunmen on the outskirts of the town
During a news conference in Sidon, Assir that he would not be afraid to go to Arsal once he decides to do so.
“When we want to go somewhere we are not afraid of anyone,” he said.
Assir added that his supporters were ready to prevent March 8 officials from passing though Sidon.
During the Cabinet’s weekly session, President Michel Sleiman said that the Army’s measures to arrest the perpetrators are ongoing.
“The Arsal incident is being dealt with by the Army and measures are ongoing to arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice,” he said.
Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi said there will be no leniency with the killers of the two soldiers: “There will be no secret compromises over the blood of martyrs; everyone who assaulted the soldiers is a terrorist and will be pursued.”
In an interview with a local television station, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said that what happened in Arsal led him to believe that Sunnis in the country were under attack:
“My impression is that there is a war against Sunnis, and the Arsal incident is very unfortunate. ... But should it be an excuse to target its residents and all Sunnis?”
He accused certain political groups, without naming them, of dragging Christians and Sunnis into a conflict.
Separately, Military Investigative Judge Fadi Sawwan issued arrest warrants against Mustafa Ali Hujeiry and Hasan Mohammad Hujeiry Wednesday after interrogating the suspects over their involvement in the Arsal incident.