Lebanon News

Assir denies plans to disrupt Sadr ceremony

FILE - A poster of speaker Nabih Berri and Imam Musa Sadr on the roads. (The Daily Star/Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: Ahead of the anniversary of Musa Sadr’s disappearance Friday, rumors persist in Sidon that controversial Sheikh Ahmad Assir might try to disrupt proceedings by blocking the southern road heading to Nabatieh, where the ceremony will take place.

There is talk in Sidon that Assir intends to hold a sit-in in the Hisbeh area, close to Ain al-Hilweh.

Assir said in an interview that people traveling to Nabatieh from across the country are safe, but added that he intends to send a peaceful message to the Shiite sect at Friday prayers.

Meanwhile, political and security meetings have taken place in Sidon to discuss how the presence of Assir’s followers might interfere with those travelling to Nabatieh for Friday’s commemoration of the Shiite imam, who disappeared during a visit to Libya in 1978.

The Amal Movement, of which Sadr was a founding member, has placed the final touches on the preparations for Friday’s ceremony – the 34th anniversary of the Imam’s disappearance.

The organizing committee says that thousands of seats have been arranged and that all logistical preparations have been completed, with the streets of Nabatieh decorated with victory arches and resistance banners.

Lebanese and Amal flags have been raised, along with photos of Sadr and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, pictured together on posters which read: “For every oppressor there is an end, and we are waiting.”

A Lebanese ministerial committee has been tasked with investigating Sadr’s disappearance.

Previously, Lebanese authorities in charge of the case had issued an arrest warrant for then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who died in last year’s Libyan revolution.

During the commemoration, Berri will comment on the situation in the country, as well as reveal what the committee and the Libyan authorities have discovered so far.

The head of the committee, Judge Hasan Shami, dismissed Tuesday claims that Sadr’s remains had been discovered, adding that he believed the imam and his two companions were being held in an unknown detention center in Libya.

Amal has refrained from raising any commemorative banners or posters in the city of Sidon itself to avoid creating tension.

One victory arch was raised at the southern entrance to Sidon, but was later unintentionally destroyed by a road accident.

Speaking to The Daily Star at his home in the village of Shwaliq, Assir said he was preparing further “peaceful and civilized” action, as no solution had yet been reached on the issue of non-state arms.

Assir and his supporters previously held a monthlong sit-in between July and August in protest of Hezbollah’s arms, during which the northern entrance to Sidon was blocked.

Assir denied that he had visited the Ain al-Hilweh camp in order to coordinate a new sit-in.

In response to rumors that he intends to hold a protest Friday to obstruct the movement of Sadr supporters, Assir said: “We are not thugs who would block the road. We are protesting the tyranny of weapons, because of repeated violations against us and the Lebanese people. That doesn’t mean we would right a wrong by committing further wrongs.”

“Our sit-in was peaceful and civilized, and the seaside road remained open,” he added.

During the sit-in, Assir’s supporters clashed with members of the Popular Nasserite Organization in a gun battle that left five people injured.

Assir describes the sit-in as being “designed to raise the issue of weapons, so that they can be discussed seriously. If it is not discussed at the dialogue table we will return to our peaceful and civilized sit-in – but as of yet we haven’t determined when and where.”

During Ramadan, Assir promised to take action after Eid al-Fitr.

The March 14 coalition have, to varying degrees, withdrawn from recent National Dialogue sessions over the omission of non-state arms from the agenda, but President Michel Sleiman has vowed the issue will be discussed at the next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 20.

Sources close to Assir have said that he has been warned by local security officials not to act recklessly, and that he would be prevented from carrying out a similarly disruptive sit-in again to prevent growing tension in Lebanon.

According to the sources, Assir has been warned that taking action Friday would be a “suicide attempt,” and he has been advised to keep any civil action within the walls of his mosque.

They added that Sidon MP Bahia Hariri had requested that Army commander General Jean Kahwagi prevent Assir from obstructing the passage of those heading to Nabatieh to participate in Friday’s ceremony.

Also Wednesday, Jamaa Islamiya official Bassam Hammoud visited Amal Movement’s office in Haret Saida, where he discussed ways to strengthen dialogue in Sidon.

Also discussed was how best to resolve any problems that might arise as a result of the growing tensions in the country.

Hammoud was also accompanied by Islamic forces from Ain al-Hilweh and a representative of the Salafist movement in the city.

After the meeting, Hammoud said: “The region and Lebanon are going through delicate times, which require from everyone high levels of national responsibility [in order] to prevent strife in the country.”

“There are already a number of areas across Lebanon which have been experiencing instability and chaos, including the bloody battles in north Lebanon, and the kidnappings in Beirut and the Bekaa.”

“All this is jeopardizing the stability and civil peace, which is already fragile in Lebanon,” he added.

In order to maintain Sidon as a “symbol of coexistence,” Hammoud said that “we met with our brothers in the Amal Movement and there was clear agreement that Sidon and its Hara and camps are one unit.

“Any violation against these places will be rejected and condemned, and the perpetrator will be held responsible.”

Sidon’s former mayor, Abdul-Rahman Bizri, issued a statement Wednesday rejecting the use of the city’s streets to express political opinions.

He stressed his “rejection that the city’s streets and squares be used to express personal opinions and to harm the interests of the people, by blocking roads and obstructing traffic. This will only harm Sidon, its heritage, and civil, social and political peace.”

Bizri added that the Lebanese government and the Interior Ministry were responsible for preventing a repetition of the crisis which Sidon experienced during Assir’s sit-in.

He added that the anniversary of Sadr’s disappearance was important to Sidon, as it was the capital of the south, and so also the capital of the resistance against Israel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 30, 2012, on page 3.




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