SIDON, Lebanon: Five people including a Palestinian girl and a young Russian woman were wounded in Sidon in an armed clash overnight between supporters of Sheikh Ahmad Assir and members of the Popular Nasserite Organization.
Security sources told The Daily Star that two of the wounded were gunmen involved in the 70-minute gunfight, which erupted over a dispute between the two sides in the Bab al-Serail Square of Sidon’s old city.
A Lebanese man identified as Wafiq Baba, Palestinian teenager Rayyan al-Qayyem and an unidentified young Russian woman were wounded, but not seriously, sources added.
Terrified diners fled Bab al-Serail Square after the clash erupted. “All was calm inside the old city and people were having their suhour in cafes and restaurants when suddenly bullets were fired,” said Youssef Salloum, the owner of Bab al-Serail cafe.
According to Salloum, when the groups started firing machine guns and rifles, the scene descended into chaos. “As people fled, tables were overturned and bottles were broken. A Russian woman was wounded – I carried her to the seaside road where she escaped with her hosts.”
The Army and security forces went into the old city, but as of yet no arrests have been made.
Baba said he went up to the roof to see what happened when he struck by flying debris. “I was just released from the hospital but will need surgery to remove pieces from my body.”
“The situation is unbearable. We usually wait for the summer and the month of Ramadan to compensate for losses sustained during the rest of the year,” Salloum said. “Authorities must end the chaos. This is not the first time nor will it be the last.”
In recent years, dozens of clashes have taken place inside the old city and most of them have centered on political disputes between Future Movement supporters and the PNO.
There has also been drug-related violence, episodes that usually result with arrests.
The fighting marks the second time that an armed clash between Assir supporters and the PNO have resulted in injuries. Assir visited the site of the clash Wednesday, and called on his men to “avoid getting dragged into any fight.”
For several years now, Sidon public figures have been calling on the police to open a station inside the old city, demanding more patrols to reduce acts of violence inside the neighborhoods.
During his visit to Sidon last week, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel requested that heads of security prepare a list of their demands including establishing one or more police stations inside the old city.