SIDON, Lebanon: Sidon protesters ended a monthlong street sit-in, which had raised political tensions in the southern city to a boiling point, after securing token concessions from top officials. Sheikh Ahmad Assir and his followers, who had closed Sidon’s highway for over a month in protest against Hezbollah’s arms, dismantled their sit-in Wednesday and traffic resumed along the city’s main road.
The deal, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Star, was brokered by Palestinian Islamist factions in Sidon and agreed to by a host of high-ranking officials, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, in addition to Assir.
The agreement requires President Michel Sleiman along with Mikati and Charbel to guarantee that all parties in the National Dialogue will seriously discuss the national defense strategy and a plan to subject Hezbollah’s weapons to a degree of national oversight. This demand was Assir’s main objective when he launched his protest in late June, although the item has long been on the Dialogue agenda.
Officials also promised to call on the judiciary to expedite the trials of Islamist detainees who have been held for five years for alleged involvement in the Nahr al-Bared battle between Islamist militants and the Lebanese Army. The detention of the Islamists has without trial been a grievance for a large number of groups around the country. The agreement’s terms also grant protection from the president, prime minister, state and intelligence officials to Assir and his supporters for any reprisals against them and commits the government to increase security around Assir’s headquarters at Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque in Sidon. If all those terms are met, the agreement says, Assir will not resume his sit-in.
Charbel traveled to Sidon Wednesday evening to put the finishing touches on the deal that reopened the highway. Behind-the-scenes political mediation efforts have been under way for days to end the crisis.
“I hope that we can live together, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and Speaker Nabih Berri, without illegal weapons,” Assir said after announcement of the end of the sit-in. The sheikh and his hundreds of followers called for equal treatment of citizens under the law and demanded that Hezbollah’s weapons be brought under control.
The protest and sit-in considerably raised tensions in the city. Counter-protests were staged, scuffles between rival groups occurred and even a grenade was thrown in the direction of demonstrators during the protest that diverted entry and exit into the city to the coastal road, snarled traffic and limited business activity.
The sheikh sparked uproar when he threatened to haunt Nasrallah and Berri in their dreams, and refused to refer to the Shiite leaders by their titles.