Fresh clashes broke out in Lebanon’s southern city of Sidon Friday afternoon when armed supporters of fugitive Salafi Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir provoked a confrontation with Lebanese soldiers.
Dozens of armed Islamists, following prayers at a local mosque, marched towards the suburb of Abra to Assir’s compound – which is under control of the army – and opened fire at soldiers, according to the National News Agency.
No casualties have been reported.
The army launched a manhunt for the extremist cleric after he fled a two-day battle earlier this week which killed 18 soldiers.
Meanwhile in the Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, which has been home to frequent clashes involving Islamists, gunmen shut down a major road and forced shop owners lock up.
They also fired into the air as they tore down a banner showing Future leader Saad Hariri and replaced it with one of Ahmad al-Assir, according to TV reports.
Lebanon’s Salafis were until very recently close to Hariri, who is widely acknowledged to have been one of their main backers, but many now consider him a traitor after distancing himself from the radicals following their attack on the Lebanese army in Sidon.
Salafi fundamentalists have been simmering with anger since they lost a couple dozen of their brethren Sunday and Monday during a fierce battle with Lebanon’s army in Abra.
The battle was sparked after a group of gunmen ambushed an army checkpoint in Abra on Sunday and killed a number of soldiers. The gunmen then retreated to a nearby safe-house under control of Assir’s militants where the battle ensued.