In February, al Assir caused a stir when he and hundreds of his bearded supporters arrived in buses at a ski resort in the Christian heartland, where residents set up roadblocks to try to keep him out.
The fighting in Sidon is the bloodiest involving the army since the military fought a three month battle in Air Max 90 Essential Black Wolf Grey
Many people living on upper floors moved downstairs for cover or fled to safer areas. Some were seen carrying children. Others stayed locked in their homes or shops, afraid of getting caught in the crossfire. Gray smoke billowed over parts of the city.
On Monday, however, the army moved against al Assir after his followers opened fire on an army checkpoint unprovoked.
is a war zone, said Nabil Azzam, a resident who returned briefly Monday to check on his home after having fled with his family a day earlier. is the result of all the sectarian rhetoric that has been building because of the war in Syria. It was bound to happen, he said by telephone, a conversation interrupted by a burst of gunfire.
Official reports said at least 16 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in two days of clashes with armed followers of Ahmad al Assir, a maverick Sunni sheik whose rapid rise is a sign of the deep frustration among many Lebanese who resent the ascendancy of Shiites to power, led by the militant group Hezbollah.
the memory of this destructive war that remains as a restraining force for now, said Fawaz A. Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
Few had heard of him until last year, when he began agitating for Hezbollah to disarm, taking advantage of the deep frustration among Lebanon Sunnis and a political void on the Sunni street following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a powerful Sunni leader.
Many in the Western backed coalition known as March 14, headed by Hariri son, Saad, quietly backed al Assir as he launched his anti Hezbollah tirades, and several Sunni politicians attacked Nike Air Max 90 Womens Size 5
The fierce battle that al Assir fighters were putting up showed how aggressive Sunni extremists have grown in Lebanon, building on anger not only at Syria regime but also its allies in Hezbollah.
bravery of the army facing al Assir well armed supporters has shamed Lebanese politicians, said Hisham Jaber, a retired army general who heads a Beirut based think tank . He said the army appeared determined to remain neutral despite attempts by politicians to splinter it.
Machine gun fire and explosions from rocket propelled grenade caused panic among residents, who also reported power and water outages. Snipers allied with al Assir took over rooftops, terrorizing civilians, and many were asking to be evacuated from the heavily populated neighbourhood around the Bilal bin Rabbah Mosque, where al Assir preaches and where the fighting has been concentrated.
Al Assir, a 45 year old bearded cleric who supports the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, is an unlikely figure to challenge the Lebanese army.
The scenes of soldiers aiming at gunmen holed up in residential buildings and armoured personnel vehicles deployed in the streets evoked memories of Lebanon 1975 90 civil war.
Residents of the southern port fled machine gun fire and grenade explosions that shook the coastal area in one of the deadliest rounds of violence, seen as a Nike Air Max 90 Colours test of the weak government ability to contain the furies unleashed by the civil war in neighbouring Syria.
Despite his attention seeking tactics, al Assir rants against Hezbollah resonated with many Sunnis who are bitter about Hezbollah increasingly dominant role in Lebanese politics.
Hezbollah appeared to be staying largely out of the clashes, although a few of its supporters in Sidon were briefly drawn into the fight Sunday, firing on al Assir supporters. At least one was killed, according to his relatives in the city who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety.
were killed, dozens of them were arrested, the security official said. There was no sign of al Assir and it was unclear if he was in the mosque or had managed to escape.
2007 against the al Qaida inspired Fatah Islam group inside the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el Bared in northern Lebanon. The Lebanese army crushed the group, but the clashes killed more than 170 soldiers.
the army, accusing it of bias in favour of Hezbollah.
Deadly clashes between army and Sunni extremists present a test for Lebanon
He teamed up with Fadel Shaker, a once prominent Lebanese singer turned Salafist, who took to reciting verses of the Qur'an at al Assir protests. Shaker brother, a close aide to al Assir, was killed in confrontations with the army Monday, the National News Agency said.
In addition to the more than 20 followers of the cleric who Nike Air Max 90 Hot Pink And Black
In many cases, soldiers stood by helplessly and watched the violence.
Syria civil war has been bleeding into Lebanon for the past year, following similar sectarian lines of Sunni and Shiite camps. Overstretched and outgunned by militias, the military has struggled on multiple fronts in the eastern Bekaa valley and the northern city of Tripoli as armed factions fought street battles that often lasted several days.
Sidon, located about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Beirut, has largely been spared the violence plaguing border areas. The clashes began Sunday in the Mediterranean city after troops arrested an al Assir follower. The army says the cleric supporters opened fire without provocation on an army checkpoint.
The challenges facing the Lebanese military resemble those that prevailed in that conflict, which eventually splintered the army along sectarian lines.
Last month, after Hezbollah openly joined Assad forces in the border town of Qusair, al Assir called on Sunnis in Lebanon to enter the fight in in Syria, and posted pictures of himself allegedly in Qusair before its fall into government hands. He accused the army of inaction in the face of Hezbollah growing involvement in Syria.
BEIRUT Lebanon third largest city of Sidon was turned into a battle zone Monday as the military fought heavily armed followers of an extremist Sunni Muslim cleric holed up in a mosque.
He kept local and international media entertained by pulling stunts such as riding his bicycle and getting his hair cut in public while he openly challenged and taunted Hezbollah like few had dared before. He even publicly criticized Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah something few would do in Lebanon.
Last year, al Assir set up a protest tent city that closed a main road in Sidon for a month in a sit in meant to pressure Hezbollah to disarm.
The military appealed to the gunmen to turn themselves in, vowing to continue its operations security is totally restored. By evening, the army had stormed the mosque complex, though not the mosque itself.
But al Assir appears to have overplayed his cards by attacking the army, the only trusted institution in the country, triggering a backlash.
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