TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Tension remained high in Akkar Friday as residents planned a series of escalatory steps to protest the release of military personnel in the murder case of two local sheikhs.
Masked gunmen were seen roaming the streets in the vicinity of the village of Munjez, while angry residents blocked a number of roads in the district using makeshift earth berms or rocks, or by pitching tents to hold sit-ins.
They were protesting the release on bail of three Army officers and eight soldiers involved in the May 20 killing of Sheikh Ahmad Abdul-Wahed and Hussein Mereb at an Army checkpoint in Akkar.
Another five soldiers remain in custody in connection with the case, according to judicial sources.
The protesters disrupted traffic on the road between Abdeh in Akkar and Tripoli, forcing drivers to use side roads until the highway was eventually opened.
Lawyers involved in the case will hold a news conference Saturday to comment on the judiciary’s decision, while a rally is being planned for the following day.
Relatives of the two sheikhs remain adamant that they will not stand down until a just conclusion is reached in the matter, and some sources are indicating that the authorities should expect a wider campaign of civil disobedience to begin Monday, if “nothing new” is offered by the authorities.
At a news conference held after Friday prayers, Sheikh Raed Hleihel from the League of Muslim Ulama said, “justice must take its course.”
A large delegation of Muslim scholars will visit Abdul-Wahed’s hometown of Bireh Sunday to announce their latest stand on the matter, he added.
Akkar MP Khaled Daher, who has been holding meetings with representatives of the two men’s families, said, “from the very first moment we have affirmed that the assassination was suspicious. There was a clear indication that it wasn’t just [Abdul-Wahed] who was being targeted, because he is from Akkar, but rather the entire country.”
Daher said the two men, who were supportive of the Syrian uprising, had been killed in order to “keep them quiet,” and that the murder resembled the string of political assassinations that had befallen Lebanon since 2005 and up to recent attempts against the lives of Samir Geagea and Butros Harb.
“I don’t want to make accusations against anyone who is innocent,” Daher said.
“I’ve said it before – not all of the military personnel who were detained were involved in this. There are those who carried [out] this assassination, and there are those who defended those in the convoy [the two sheikhs].”
Daher said the Military Tribunal was not the appropriate body to pass judgment in the matter, hinting that it would not act to find military personnel guilty. “We have warned, since the beginning, that the Military Tribunal is not a competent body to deal with this case. It’s unacceptable that it serve as both a party to and the judge in this case,” Daher added.
For his part, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri criticized the authorities Friday for allowing the release of the military personnel suspected of involvement in the killing of Abdul-Wahed and Mereb.