SIDON, Lebanon: The Future Movement and Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya called for calm in Sidon Friday, as controversial cleric Sheikh Ahmad Assir promised further action Sunday.
The two parties issued a joint statement to emphasize their “commitment to the state and its institutions, preserving security and stability in the city of Sidon and protecting civil peace and coexistence there” after a meeting in Majdalyoun that included Sidon MP Bahia Hariri.
The call came after a series of protests in the city led by Assir, who says Hezbollah is using apartments to monitor his activities. He wants them to vacate the properties near the mosque where he preaches on Sidon’s outskirts.
The Future Movement and Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya said they rejected “resorting to arms and the use of arms by anyone to threaten people.” They condemned “provocative and sectarian rhetoric” and called for the use of “common sense, wisdom, and dealing with all incidents in a calm manner.”
The statement also accused the Lebanese state of falling short in terms of securing shelter, proper care and other services for Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian refugees.
After the meeting, Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya’s political officer in the south, Bassam Hammoud, said the country’s security institutions were clamping down too hard on the city’s residents.
“We will confront any attempt to cause sectarian strife with all our strength,” he said, but added, “in several cases the state has abandoned its responsibilities and the strong are dominating the weak.
“Sometimes the state’s security bodies are overreacting to incidents and trampling on citizens’ rights. This is what we saw in Sidon when they turned the city into a security barrack,” he added, in a reference to the Army’s heightened presence since Assir began his series of sit-ins.
The two groups also demanded the men who killed three people in a November shootout with Hezbollah members near the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp be “handed over,” a topic also raised by Assir Friday.
Despite previously saying he planned no protests Friday, Assir and his supporters walked from prayers through an Army cordon and held a sit-in at the Al-Karama roundabout where Lubnan al-Azzi and Ali Samhoun, two victims of the shootout, are buried.
Azzi and Samhoun were bodyguards of Assir. An Egyptian bystander, Ali Sharbini, was also shot to death.
Assir then made a speech in which he told his supporters to prepare for an “event” Sunday. He did not specify a place or time. He and his supporters also pledged they would do whatever it took to confront Hezbollah’s arms.
At the mosque where Assir attended Friday prayers, Sheikh Abdullah al-Baqra urged Hezbollah to “stop acquiring more weapons and turning Sidon’s neighborhoods into barracks, because the road to Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque does not pass through [the Sidon neighborhood of] Abra or [the Syrian province of] Al-Qusair.”