SIDON, Lebanon: A tight Army grip on Sidon forced Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir to relocate a sit-in Sunday and tell supporters he would no longer announce the locations of his demonstrations.
Many residents were forced to stay indoors until Assir ended his protest and the Army reopened the roads it had blocked.
Addressing supporters at the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque after sunset prayers, Assir said he would no longer reveal where he plans to hold his protests so authorities could not block supporters from reaching their destination.
The Army and Internal Security Forces deployed heavily one hour ahead of the time Assir had set for a sit-in at the Maksar al-Abded roundabout at Sidon’s northern entrance. They blocked several roads, including both directions of the road to Abra, the village east of Sidon where Assir’s mosque is located.
Assir and his supporters instead headed for Nijmeh Square, where they chanted slogans against Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Speaker Nabih Berri and Iran.
Assir complained that his supporters were being prevented from protesting peacefully, while gunmen were able to move freely in the nearby area of Haret Saida, which is dominated by the Amal Movement.
“Send the Army to the borders where people are being killed by the Syrian criminal [President Bashar Assad] rather than bringing it here.”
He said the state’s strict measures only made him more determined to forge on with his protests.
“We have several demands that must be met, or else we will escalate our moves gradually, even if this leads to our death,” he added.
Sunday’s protest was the third Assir has held since last Friday. He is demanding that Hezbollah leave apartments near his mosque that he argues are being used to watch him.
Earlier in the day, former Sidon MP Osama Saad, the secretary-general of the Popular Nasserite Organization, said Takfiri groups were stoking Sunni-Shiite tension in a bid to deal a blow to stability and Hezbollah.
“Rising sectarian incitement, provocative acts, security zones [where the state cannot enter] and the proliferation of arms and gunmen have shaken security and stability, harmed people and their businesses and are posing a serious threat to civil peace,” Saad said in reference to Assir.
Saad slammed security and judicial bodies for remaining silent in the face of Assir’s actions, accusing some officials, security bodies and political groups who oppose Hezbollah of protecting him.
Saad was addressing thousands of supporters who marched in Sidon to mark the 38th anniversary of the assassination of his father, former MP Maarouf Saad. Saad stressed that Sidon would never become a “den of sectarianism.”
Elsewhere, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri discussed the security situation in the city with Elie Haddad, Sidon’s Melkite Greek Catholic bishop, at his house in Majdalyoun.
Hariri and Haddad highlighted the need to distance Sidon and its environs from tension, the importance of the state’s security bodies in preserving security and stability in the city, and the need to increase dialogue among different segments of Sidon society.
“There should be one consultative gathering in the city, rather than every group having its own gathering,” Haddad stressed, warning against provocative speeches.
After meeting with Berri Saturday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said authorities would not allow strife to break out in the country.
“Some want to bring strife to Lebanon, this is forbidden and [amounts to crossing] a red line. The Army and Internal Security Forces are on alert to confront them,” he said.
For his part, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora spoke out against some of Assir’s actions.
“We do not support the blocking of roads ... we do not accept verbal attacks against any group living in the city because all groups are people of this city as long as they abide by the law,” Siniora said in a speech in Sidon.
He also said he opposed verbal attacks against security and judicial bodies, “but the same time we oppose threats and hints which some made and are making against the city directly or through mediators because we oppose the logic of force,” Siniora said in reference to a recent speech by Nasrallah.
Last week, Nasrallah said some in the country are trying to spark Sunni-Shiite discord. He said his party was eager to prevent any confrontation “but no one should make any miscalculations with us.”
Siniora said that carrying and threatening to use illegitimate arms in Sidon was unacceptable, urging the state to apply the law equally.
Siniora said he opposed attempts to turn political disputes into fighting between “brothers of the same religion.”
Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya said in a statement that current divisions between Muslims stem from a feeling by some Muslims of marginalization.
The group held the state responsible for this situation, urging it to address its root causes.
In an indirect reference to Hezbollah, it urged “our partners in the country” to refrain from using threats.