SIDON, Lebanon: Around 650 people marched toward Sidon’s sea road in a protest led by Sheikh Ahmad Assir following a Friday sermon in which he assailed Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, calling them criminals.
Protesters marched from the location of Assir’s sit-in, which blocks the eastern highway connecting Beirut and south Lebanon in the coastal city of Sidon, to the sea road. Many held aloft signs that read: “Berri, Nasrallah, the hands of the clock will not move backward.”
At the beginning of his sit-in last month, Assir called on Hezbollah to hand over its weapons to the state, but he subsequently scaled down the demand and now says the issue of the party’s weapons must be discussed in earnest at the Dialogue table.
As the crowd walked toward the sea road, soldiers and members of the Internal Security Forces stood on the perimeter of the sea road connecting south Lebanon to Beirut, blocking their way. They were armed with protective shields as well as sniper guns.
Prior to the march, Assir held his Friday sermon at the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque and issued a “salute from the Lebanon of the free to the Syria of victory.”
During his sermon, the anti-Hezbollah preacher called Berri and Nasrallah criminals and said that the National Dialogue was discussing what he described as “the Resistance’s strategy,” rather than one of national defense.
He also said that Hezbollah’s stance toward the National Dialogue was clear. Assir was referring to Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad’s comments that it was premature for rival political leaders to discuss a national defense strategy, as the country has yet to liberate itself from Israeli occupation.
Last month, the president convened two National Dialogue sessions between leaders of the Future Movement-led March 14 coalition and the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance in an attempt to defuse political and sectarian tensions stemming from the 16-month turmoil in Syria.
The next session, scheduled for Tuesday, aim at discussing a draft national defense strategy to incorporate Hezbollah’s arms proposed by President Michel Sleiman.
In his sermon, Assir attacked Hezbollah’s ally, head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun, saying that he would soon be committed to a psychiatric hospital.
He also saluted the Syrian people and said he would soon be able to congratulate them “on their victory over the oppressor.”
“There is no one left for you,” Assir said, addressing President Bashar Assad as the crowd chanted: “Leave, leave, leave!”