Who do I hate more? I am well aware that although Shiite/Shia countries are ruled under Islamic theocracies, they are far more stable than Sunni countries. In this conflict, I’d rather have Al-Assad win. If the FSA (Obama/Saudi backed Al-Qaeda terrorists) win, then we will see the toppling of a stable state and see the birth of another Islamic Hellhole governed under strict Sharia Law.
The southern Lebanese port city of Sidon has been turned into a combat zone as soldiers battle the followers of a hard-line Sunni Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmad Al-Assir in fights that have left almost 50 dead.
The two days of clashes are the latest bout of violence in Lebanon linked to the conflict in neighbouring Syria and the bloodiest yet involving the army — 17 soldiers were reported killed, including two officers.
Lebanese media has depicted the clashes as a test for the state in containing armed groups that have taken up the cause of the warring sides in Syria, whose sectarian makeup mirrors that of its smaller neighbour.
“Attacking the army crosses a line — it is provocative and not something we want to see,” said Sami Atallah, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, a Beirut-based think tank. “I hope it doesn’t escalate. The situation is tense but is not yet out of control.”
The Lebanese army has traditionally been multi-sectarian, with a Christian serving as chief-of-staff and as head of intelligence, while about half of the officers are Christians and half are Muslims. While the Muslims are divided between Shiites and Sunnis, according to Ferid Chedid of The Lebanon Wire, a Beirut-based news service. However, many Christians have stopped volunteering for the army and the ranks are now mostly Muslim.
“The army is determined to end the Assir situation because otherwise it will lose all of its prestige and will become paralyzed,” said Mr. Chedid. “This is very important for Lebanon as a state. The army is the last barrier before a Sunni-Shiite war in Lebanon.”
The two days of fighting between troops and armed supporters of Sheikh Assir has transformed Sidon, 40 kilometres south of Beirut, into a combat zone.
Skirmishes reportedly began when Sheikh Assir’s supporters surrounded an army checkpoint in Abra, on the outskirts of the city, after soldiers had stopped a vehicle carrying their comrades. Media reports said 17 Lebanese soldiers and at least 30 of Sheikh Assir’s men were killed in the fighting that ensued. The army took control of Sheikh Assir’s mosque in Abra, but the fighting continued for a second day.
Sheikh Assir opposes the Shiite organization Hezbollah and its involvement in Syria’s civil war where its members are fighting side-by-side with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against the rebels.
Protests quickly spread to other parts of Lebanon, including Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley. They came as sectarian tensions in Lebanon are worsening and some one million Syrian refugees threaten to overcome the small country.
Sheikh Assir, who was raised in a Christian town, belongs to the extremist Salafist movement, said Mr. Chedid. The cleric has sharply attacked Hezbollah’s growing efforts to support the Assad regime in Syria.
Lebanon is no stranger to civil war. A bloody conflict between 1975 and 1990 left at least 120,000 Lebanese dead in the country of just over four million people. Analysts say various parties use the sectarian card to get what they want, and warn it could be dangerous.
“It’s like a pyramid – people at the stop use sectarianism to mobilize their constituency,” said Mr. Atallah. “It is simply a convenient tool to use for other ends.”
Some in Lebanon have charged that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are supporting Sheikh Assir in order to undermine the delicate balance between Sunnis and Shiites in the country.