Qahwaji Inspects Army Units in Sidon as Manhunt Launched for Asir

إقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية W460

Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji inspected on Tuesday military units in the southern city of Sidon as security forces launched a major manhunt for radical Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir.

In the coastal city meanwhile, the army worked to consolidate its control, after troops overran Asir's headquarters on Monday afternoon.

Soldiers evacuated civilians trapped in their homes since the fighting with Asir's supporters began on Sunday afternoon, and detonated explosives abandoned by Asir's supporters as they fled on Monday.

The 24 hours of clashes were the worst to hit Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict in neighboring Syria, which has inflamed sectarian tensions in the country, sparking sporadic fighting.

A day of mourning was announced for the 17 soldiers killed in the fighting, and the government held a moment of silence.

Qahwaji left Sidon without making any statement.

The streets around Asir's complex were packed with people who came to inspect their homes and shops, many of which were damaged during the fighting.

Lebanese commandos patrolled streets littered with burnt-out cars and others riddled with bullets.

Speculation was rife as to the whereabouts of Asir, the radical cleric known for his opposition to Hizbullah, and his antagonism to the army.

A day earlier, the Lebanese judiciary issued a detention order for Asir and 123 of his followers, and on Tuesday, Lebanon's military and security bodies were all mobilized to search for him, a security source said.

"There are several hypotheses on his whereabouts," the source told Agence France Presse.

"Some say he is disguised as a woman and that he has traveled to Tripoli (in northern Lebanon). Others say he may have fled to Syria."

"It is also possible he is hiding in (the southern Palestinian refugee camp of) Ain el-Hilweh," he added, referring to a Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon.

A military source said the army had arrested "dozens of people suspected of loyalty" to Asir as they captured his headquarters on Monday night.

Journalists who toured the complex, which includes a mosque, several office building and apartment blocks, saw abandoned weapons, including rocket launchers and machine guns, as well as fatigues.

The complex in Abra, on the eastern outskirts of Sidon, is a residential area and dozens of civilians were trapped by the fighting, which left several apartments in the area burned out.

The violence began on Sunday evening, when Asir's supporters opened fire on an army checkpoint, reportedly after a car carrying his backers was stopped.

The clashes quickly spread, with his supporters and the army exchanging gun and mortar fire, terrifying local residents.

The fighting was condemned by figures across Lebanon's political spectrum, including Sunni leaders who distanced themselves from Asir.

The controversial cleric was virtually unknown until the beginning of the Syrian conflict, but gained prominence for his criticism of Hizbullah and its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

He slammed the group for sending fighters to Syria to battle the Sunni-led uprising alongside regime troops, and encouraged his own followers to join rebel forces there.

The conflict has exacerbated sectarian tensions in Lebanon, particularly between Shiites who back the Syrian regime, and Sunnis who favor the uprising.

Asir has also called for Hizbullah to be disarmed, a popular cause with many Lebanese who resent the group's power, and criticized the army which he claims turns a blind eye to the group's armory.

Last week, his supporters clashed with Hizbullah backers in the Abra neighborhood, in fighting that left one civilian dead.

Sunni leaders on Monday urged the army to work "fairly and thoroughly" to disarm all groups in Lebanon."

The law "needs to apply to all Lebanese equally. The state's institutions are responsible for all Lebanese... without distinction," they said.

Comments 17
Thumb Chupachups 25 June 2013, 14:11

yep, indeed

Missing --karim_m1 25 June 2013, 14:15

God bless the army. Find the terrorist Assir and hang him.

Missing eldofar 25 June 2013, 15:00

why don't u consider another scenario....the solders were killed by another armed group just to turn the public opinion against Assir...sounds logical...the way to get rid of him

Thumb sophia_angle 25 June 2013, 15:44

the picture is blurry

Missing eldofar 25 June 2013, 15:07

totally agree with you...army must fulfill its obligations in all situations ... not only when a certain group of people is involved...my deepest condolences to the follen ... they were just following orders

Thumb beiruti 25 June 2013, 15:46

"Some say he is disguised as a woman and that he has traveled to Tripoli" So, what did he do with that beard?

Missing theobserver 25 June 2013, 16:28

he is disguised as a hairy woman ! :)

Thumb beiruti 25 June 2013, 15:47

I join with those on this string in praise of the LAF. They are a capable force and when allowed to show what they can do, they have always performed. But for the Lebanese Army, there would be no state. As many have said, let this be not the end, but the beginning of the army putting an end to all armed groups that exist in Lebanon outside of the bounds of the Constitution and laws of the country.

Thumb beiruti 25 June 2013, 16:00

And another thing, where does a poor cleric such as Asir get the money to purchase the type of arms that the Army has found in his compound? There is a collaboration with the Asiri and some one with extra money or weapons on their hands that are intent on attempting to spark sectarian war in Lebanon. It is enough that Iran sends money and weapons to Hezbollah we do not need Wahabis sending the same to the likes of Asir. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Missing zahle_nights 25 June 2013, 16:43

Assir should be brought to justice and be given the death penalty for killing our solidiers and nothing less than that... However, for those who are standing by the army, I would like to see the same support for the army, once the army will be chasing Nassrallah out of his cave... Then and only then Lebanon will emerge victorious... Long linve our Lebanese army...

Missing peace 25 June 2013, 17:52

qahwaji is preparing his presidency... kind and closing eyes over hezbis, letting them go into syria despite the cabinet call for disassociation , letting hezbis bomb areas in saida instead of asking them not to meddle into internal security matters...

of course there will be a feeling of double standards that extremist groups like assir will exploit!
there is no surprise in what happened, people knew it would long ago and it will again till hezbis are disarmed!
what is good for hezbis is forbidden to others... a real farce! LOL

Thumb primesuspect 25 June 2013, 18:44

benzina said 3 squads of hizbi terroristas were assisting the army in breaking down their opponent Assir...

Thumb Senescence 25 June 2013, 20:29

Well, if that were true, it bears very little implications as we've seen volunteers extending their assistance to the army in any form they can ( and in some cases even with the provision of guns and additional men ).

Of course Hizbullah would want the unrest the settle, and perhaps it even wants the extremist, ultraconservative cleric out (I know I do), so it's a common goal for the Army/Lebanon/and the party in question.

Thumb primesuspect 25 June 2013, 18:42

Qahwaji, a genuine patriot who'd never consider fleeing to france to save his own skin.

Thumb primesuspect 25 June 2013, 18:46

anyone not vegetarian is a cannibal. eating animals who have souls like us...

Missing enough05 26 June 2013, 00:11

i drove by this morning on my way to work after a very long weekend the army tore the place up it looks like Saigon

Thumb whyaskwhy 26 June 2013, 07:43

Disguised as a woman? what that beard he must have looked more like a circus freak than a woman. Sadly though this was a heavy price for our army and sadder yet this is what millitias bring to Lebanon.