SIDON, Lebanon: Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir has said he is being kept under surveillance by armed men linked to Hezbollah, warning this could give rise to security issues in the future in comments likely to further heighten tensions in Sidon.
Assir called on security forces to drive out the men from their apartments around the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque and confiscate their weapons.
Security sources had expressed fears that Assir would mobilize supporters against the men in the apartments and encourage reckless actions that could bring about disastrous consequences.
Late Wednesday, supporters of the Popular Nasserite Movement, an ally to Hezbollah, cut off roads in Sidon’s Qayia neighborhood protesting against a demonstration Assir has scheduled for Thursday over Hezbollah’s alleged interference in Syria’s conflict.
The controversial sheikh questioned the aims of Hezbollah at a news conference Wednesday in his office in Abra, warning that the armed men’s presence could pave the way for instability.
“Why are Hezbollah fighters staying in the apartments all day and residing in a location near the mosque and around my supporters?” Assir asked. “We ask what their agenda is and who are their targets are.”
Assir said he had evidence the young men had been specifically tasked to watch his movements and those of his supporters inside the mosque. He added that the men tend to stay indoors most of the day and are delivered arms, including Doshka machine guns, at night.
The sheikh added that when he and his supporters began vocalizing the issue they noticed the sudden appearance of security personnel around the apartments where the armed men were said to reside. He said they were there to “protect the Hezbollah fighters.”
Assir said he held the security forces responsible for any future clashes instigated by the Hezbollah-linked men should they remain in Abra.
“I demand that officials act before any sectarian conflict or dangerous clash takes place and evacuate these young men from the apartments as soon as possible,” he said, “because we will not wait until they receive the green light to execute their orders, whether their orders are an assassination attempt on my life, or carrying out an operation around the mosque.”
A petition echoing Assir’s concerns, signed by the residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the apartments, was given to south Lebanon Governor Nicholas Bou Daher and the security forces.
“We and the residents surrounding the mosque noticed that some apartments had been rented by young men not from Sidon. Neighbors thought these young men were students,” the sheikh said.
After clashes broke out some time ago, he added, the men emerged from the apartments with weapons which they used to threaten neighbors.
“It turns out these young men are fighters for Iran’s party in Lebanon,” he said indirectly referring to Hezbollah.
He dismissed reports made by what he referred to as “media outlets affiliated with Iran” that the apartments were being rented by simple families. He also denied rumors that his supporters were planning to attack the apartments.
“We have asked the governor to find a solution to this issue and the prime minister and the interior minister know of it as well,” Assir said, adding he would wait for the senior officials’ next move before taking any action.
According to political sources, Daher and a Hezbollah delegation met Wednesday at Sidon’s serail. During the talks, attended by head of the Hezbollah Liaison and Coordination Committee in the south Hussein Abdullah, the apartment in Abra was discussed.
Later, Daher called Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to brief him about the outcome of the meeting.
The sources added the meeting did not yield new developments in the issue because the Hezbollah delegation informed the governor that the men residing in the apartments were not to be intimidated.
Later, security forces were deployed around the two buildings to prevent any sort of incident from occurring, sources said.
Other political sources told The Daily Star that the apartments had been rented by Hezbollah for two decades and served as a launching point for their operations in the south and Iqlim al-Tuffah during the Israeli occupation
The sources said Assir should be ashamed for exposing the resistance’s movements in these apartments, adding that there were large areas occupied by Israel in the south.