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Lebanon cleric threatens 'military' action against Hezbollah

The Lebanese army deploys in the southern town of Sidon's eastern suburb of Abra, on June 18, 2013 after a shooting by gunmen loyal to the controversial Sunni Salafist Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir. The sheikh threatened on Wednesday to find a "military" solution to alleged Hezbollah safehouses in the southern Lebanese town,.AFP/File

A controversial Salafist sheikh threatened on Wednesday to find a "military" solution to alleged Hezbollah safehouses in a southern Lebanese town, a day after clashes involving his supporters left one person dead.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir is known for his vocal opposition to the powerful Shiite group Hezbollah and has accused it of using apartments in a suburb of the town of Sidon to house fighters and weapons.

On Tuesday, clashes broke out between his supporters, who opened fire on the buildings in the Abra district of Sidon.

Local sources said supporters of Hezbollah responded to the gunfire, and clashes ensued.

The fighting left one man dead and others wounded, the source and the military said, and prompted the army to deploy forces to restore the peace.

"We are committed to the truce until (next) Monday," Assir told AFP in an interview in the southern town on Wednesday.

"But after Monday we are not committed to anything, and we will not accept the existence of these apartments, which have provoked us and are behind many attacks on us," he said.

"If they don't leave these apartments, we have several options, including the military security option, like what occurred yesterday."

The army confirmed the outbreak of violence.

"Shooting by armed men led to the killing of a citizen and several others have been injured," the army said after deploying forces in Sidon following the incident.

The man killed was a bystander, 39-year-old Mohammad Hashisho, a father of four who was buried by his distraught family in Sidon on Wednesday.

Assir acknowledged his supporters were involved in the armed clashes, but said they were also fired at by Hezbollah supporters inside the disputed Abra apartments.

He said "primary responsibility" for the clashes lay with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, and that his supporters were acting in self-defence.

"We are defending ourselves, these apartments threaten our existence and threaten our security... and our options for dealing with it include the military security option."

In the area where the clashes occurred, the signs of the fighting were clear.

Damage from a fire could be seen in the building housing the flashpoint apartments, while across from it shelling has punched holes in a building used by Assir's guards.

A tense calm reigned on Wednesday afternoon, with gunmen manning checkpoints in the area while youths moved around sandbags, "creating a barricade" around a mosque in the area, Assir said.

The cleric, who was virtually unknown before the start of the Syrian uprising, has been involved in multiple controversies associated with his opposition to Hezbollah.

He has also encouraged his supporters to join the uprising in Syria and battle the Shiite movement there, where its members are fighting alongside the regime.