SIDON, Lebanon: Tensions are high in Sidon after March 8-affiliated parties threatened to confront Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir if he resumes protests against trucks transporting diesel to Syria from the Zahrani refinery, according to sources from the alliance.
The sources called the protests a “show” for Assir, who they said craves media attention.
They also described his latest protest against Zahrani trucks in Abra Friday as “suspicious.”
“Such actions are taking place under the security and political cover of senior political parties who believe they will benefit from the situation and strengthen their influence and increase their hold on power [in the area],” one of the sources said.
“We don’t understand why some leading political parties would mobilize Assir and [his supporters] and choose to sabotage and interfere with civil peace,” the source added.
The source also said that security and military forces had not complied with their promises to crack down on armed movements initiated by Assir that could threaten national unity.
“The security and military forces were absent Friday when Assir was mobilizing armed groups including men wanted by the police,” the source said, describing the joint Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces patrols on the scene in Abra as “tourists” because they “simply watched” the demonstration.
The source accused “a senior security official of managing the deployment of Assir’s armed supporters.”
“There is a security official who has now become a commander of Assir’s operation room,” the source said. The source also complained that even political and senior civil servants, including south Lebanon Governor Nicholas Bou Daher, did not respond to calls from Sidon officials Friday to reopen the road and allow the diesel-carrying trucks to pass.
“The inaction of security forces in the city is intentional, and Assir is acting like a pharaoh because there is no one to confront him,” the source said.
Several political sources told The Daily Star that Assir’s call for demonstrations against the diesel-carrying trucks threaten to undermine political and religious coexistence in Sidon.
The sources said that Assir has indicated in many statements that he intends to obstruct the passage of trucks transporting diesel to Syria.
Rumors circulated in the city that a political party in Sidon, which sources did not name but said was aligned with the March 8 alliance, informed senior officials that “they [the political party in Sidon] are responsible for any action made by Assir,” and that should the protests become violent “their response would be quick” and “they would contain the situation as soon as possible.”
Following this warning, the March 8-affiliated party began planning its responses to possible confrontations, deciding on measures such as blocking roads in the city and its outskirts in order to stage sit-ins.
Security sources said they observed movements by armed men who took positions in several buildings during Assir’s demonstration. As a result of these observations they have taken strict security measures to avoid violence in the future.
However, political sources said that these measures have not defused political tensions in Sidon, since Assir’s actions are not occurring in isolation from other events in the Sunni-majority areas of Lebanon.
The sources warn that ghettos outside the control of the government are becoming a reality that can’t be ignored.