SIDON, Lebanon: Sheikh Ahmad Assir ignored a warning not to extend his sit-in beyond its current bounds on Sidon's eastern highway shortly after it was delivered to him Friday by security services.
Assir and some 700 supporters left their campsite on Sidon's eastern highway and made for the coastal road early Friday afternoon, blocking it for 15 minutes before returning to the encampment.
Assir and his partisans made their way around a security cordon thrown up by some 500 policemen and Lebanese troops around the original campsite on the highway linking Beirut with south Lebanon.
Before walking the 500-meter side path to the coastal highway, Assir addressed the security forces, telling them: “We are going down [to the coastal road] to chant one slogan: ‘We want only the Lebanese Army's weapons in Lebanon.”
“I left [the campsite] peacefully and I did not engage in a faceoff with the army or police, and I will return in a short while,” Assir told The Daily Star after the infiltration.
His defiance came shortly after local security officials, meeting at Sidon's Serail, sent him a strong warning not to extend his sit-in, which is meant to induce Hezbollah to discuss disarming, beyond its current bounds on Sidon's eastern highway.
A security source told The Daily Star the conferees agreed to dispatch a senior security officer to Assir with a tough warning: “You are no longer allowed to move out of the sit-in site from this moment on.”
The warning comes a day after his supporters left their original campsite and engaged in a scuffle with motorists on the coastal road.
Just before Friday prayers, a group of men angered by Assir's month-long sit-in burned tires, demanding Lebanese authorities reopen the road. Their numbers quickly swelled and they set more tires ablaze. The protest occurred less than one kilometer from Assir’s sit-in.
The protesters waved anti-Assir banners. "We don't want Assir ... or a liberation hero who blocks Sidon roads," one sign read.
"We want the authorities to open the roads," they chanted.
Security forces, backed by a fire truck, managed to put out the blazing tire fire and reopened the road about two hours later.
Assir’s sit-in, which has blocked Sidon’s eastern highway since mid-June, has angered many merchants and businessmen. Prominent Sidon figures have repeatedly urged the sheikh to cancel the protest, but to no avail.
Commenting on these developments, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri said that she launched a series of contacts with the city’s political and religious figures in preparation for a large meeting which will bring together these figures.
Hariri, who spoke at a joint news conference with Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, urged Sidon residents to oppose all violent actions, express themselves peacefully and refrain from putting the city’s stability at risk.
She slammed the Cabinet for not addressing recent clashes in the city, saying “We didn’t receive any call from a single official and the Cabinet has not assigned someone to listen to the protesters’ demands.”