U.S. Concerned over Sidon Clashes, Urges World Support for 'Responsible Lebanese Leaders'

The United States has expressed grave concern over the latest battles that pitted fighters supporting Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir against Lebanese soldiers in the southern city of Sidon.

The U.S. “is gravely concerned by the violent clashes in Sidon,” U.S. State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said Monday.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the attacks by militants against the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which have resulted in the deaths of a number of soldiers and civilians,” he said.

“This is the time for the international community to stand with Lebanon and responsible Lebanese leaders in defense of the interests of the Lebanese people for a stable and sovereign country,” Ventrell said.

He backed the calls for calm issued by President Michel Suleiman, Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati, al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri, and other political and religious leaders.

He also praised the efforts of the army and police in working with political leaders to maintain stability, and renewed commitment to continue providing training and equipment to assist security forces in their role of preserving unity.

At least 17 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in two days of clashes with Asir's armed followers in Sidon, which on Monday was turned into a battle zone.

More than 20 of Asir's supporters were killed, according to a security official.

Dozens of them were also arrested. But there was no sign of the cleric.

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