Lebanese commandos seized Monday a complex belonging to Sheikh Ahmad Assir in the southern coastal city of Sidon, in the second day of clashes between the military and gunmen loyal to the militant preacher that have claimed the lives of at least 17 soldiers and more than 25 gunmen, the paper The Daily Star reported.
Army eavesdropping devices indicated that Assir was still in the vicinity of the complex, the sources said, adding that the fiery sheikh was heard as urging his gunmen not to surrender to the military and “fight to the death.” In overnight fighting, the Army had surrounded Assir and his some 250 gunmen barricaded in the Abra complex, 40 km south of Beirut.
Fighting erupted Sunday after armed supporters of Assir attacked a military checkpoint near the Abra complex, killing three soldiers and wounding several others.Pitched battles ensued as the Army, which vowed to respond with an iron fist to the "cold-blooded" attack, stormed Assir-held Abra.
At least 14 more soldiers were killed and more than 65 wounded. At least two civilians also died in the clashes, which brought Sidon to a standstill.
|Ahmad Assir (Al-Akhbar)|
Assir supposedly started the fighting in order to show how much his power had grown in the past year and to mark the start of bigger ventures. The fighting also activated Assir's followers in other places. Dozens of demonstrators gathered at Nour Square in the northern city of Tripoli, The Daily Star reported, raising black flags and shouting slogans in support of the radical sheikh. And in Beirut, Assir supporters burned tires in the neighborhood of Shatila.