Sunni cleric warns of uncontrolled
reaction to Sidon clashes

Sunni Sheikh Salem al-Rafei warned that the situation on the ground might get out of hand as a result of the Lebanese army operations in the southern city of Sidon.


“We won’t intervene any longer to control the streets. Let the state be responsible for the conspiracy that some of its members are [carrying out] with Hezbollah,” Rafei said in a press conference following a meeting with Sunni clerics and dignitaries on Monday.


The cleric also lashed out at the Lebanese army, saying that it was responsible for the failure of the efforts to reach a truce in Sidon.


“We have sense that [the army] has taken the decision to invade the [Bilal bin Rabah] Mosque and commit a massacre.”


He also accused “party members” of “taking part in killing women and children in Sidon,” in an implicit reference to Hezbollah.


Rafei travelled on Sunday from Tripoli to Sidon to negotiate a ceasefire between the Lebanese Armed Forces and gunmen loyal with Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir, who have been engaged in fierce clashes in the southern city.


In turn, Salafist Sheikh Daai al-Islam al-Shahal said in a statement that “eyewitnesses confirmed that party members in civilian clothes, who are not part of the military institution, entered areas close to the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque prior to the latest battle between the army and youths loyal to Assir.”


He also said that shelling hit Sidon from locations “loyal to the Shiite group Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.”


Meanwhile, Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara also issued a statement in which he voiced support for the military institution.


He, however, accused Hezbollah of inciting strife in the country.


“The incitement caused by Hezbollah and the Syrian regime led to blind armed strife that has appeared in the capital of the South, Sidon.”


Clashes continued in Sidon on Monday after they erupted early Sunday afternoon when supporters of Sunni Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir attacked the Lebanese army reportedly following the LAF’s arrest of Assir’s bodyguard Fadi Beirouti and his brother-in-law. 


The National News Agency reported that the number of casualties suffered by the LAF rose to at least 12 as its troops battled Assir supporters in the vicinity of the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque located in Sidon’s Abra.


In addition to the fatalities, the intense fighting has reportedly left more than 50 LAF soldiers wounded. 


The firebrand Sunni cleric rose to prominence for his outspoken opposition to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his calls for disarming Hezbollah.

We have sensed that [the army] had taken the decision to invade the [Bilal bin Rabah] Mosque and commit a massacre.