Lebanon army deploys after gunmen open fire near Sidon

The Lebanese army deployed near the southern town of Sidon after shooting by gunmen loyal to a controversial Salafist sheikh opposed to Hezbollah.

Updated: Jun 18, 2013, 22:04 PM IST

Sidon: The Lebanese army deployed on Tuesday near the southern town of Sidon, a security source said, after shooting by gunmen loyal to a controversial Salafist sheikh opposed to Hezbollah.

The violence comes amid soaring sectarian tensions in Lebanon that have escalated because of the raging war in neighbouring Syria.

The army said several people were wounded by the gunfire.

"Gunmen loyal to Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir opened fire on Abra," a security source told AFP, referring to an eastern suburb of the coastal town of Sidon.

"Lebanese army units are currently deploying in Abra and its vicinity in eastern Sidon," Lebanon`s National News Agency reported.
Assir, who espouses an austere form of Sunni Islam, is known for his opposition to Lebanon`s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah.

He has alleged several times that the group uses several apartments in Abra to stockpile weapons and house fighters.

The security source confirmed that the apartments were targeted by the gunmen, though there were reports of fighting in other areas as well.

According to the army, the violence broke out after a car accident in the southern city, when "armed men took to the streets in Abra and opened fire... and wounded several people.

"The army command warns all armed men that they must immediately withdraw from the streets, and that the military will not allow chaos to spread," said the army.
The military "will shoot at any armed man and respond to sources of fire", it added.

Sectarian tensions pitting Sunnis against Shiites have soared in fragile Lebanon as the spillover from Syria`s war has escalated.

Though Lebanon has officially adopted a position of neutrality in Syria`s war, Shiite Hezbollah and its allies back the Damascus regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah troops are engaged in the fighting in Syria, and recently helped Assad`s army take control of the once rebel bastion of Qusayr in central Syria.

Meanwhile, the Sunni-led opposition supports the anti-Assad revolt that broke out in March 2011.

In Tripoli in northern Lebanon, frequent battles have pitted Sunnis against Alawites-who come from an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Assad`s clan belongs.

Experts have said Sunnis from Lebanon have frequently crossed over into Syria to fight alongside anti-Assad rebels, though in smaller numbers than Hezbollah fighters.