Armed supporters of Salafi Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir killed 10 Lebanese soldiers and injured 35 near the southern town of Sidon on Sunday, the army said.
“An armed group loyal to Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir attacked, for no reason, a Lebanese army checkpoint in the village of Abra” just east of Sidon, it said.
The army identified the first six victims as First Lieutenant Samer Geryes Tanyous, Lieutenant George Elian Bou Saab, Sergeant Ali Adnan al-Masri, and soldiers Rami Ali Baker, Bilal Ali Saleh and Elie Nicolas Rahme.
It added that one gunmen was killed and 15 injured.
The fighting erupted when Assir supporters surrounded an army checkpoint in Abra, where a vehicle transporting other supporters of the radical cleric had been stopped, a security source told AFP.
“After the armed men attacked with gunfire,” the army fired back, the source added.
The army vowed it “will not tolerate” the latest developments, and that it “will continue to fulfill its mandate to suppress strife.”
The military will “strike back with an iron fist anyone who… spills the blood of the army,” the statement said.
Amjad al-Assir, the sheikh’s brother, was defiant when reached by telephone.
“The army is with Hezbollah. We’re being bombarded from all sides,” he told AFP as explosions were heard in the background.
“Sheikh Assir will stay on the battlefield along with those who support him. We will resist to the last drop of blood.”
According to the Lebanese National News Agency, fighting was still raging on late Sunday evening, as residents of the Abra neighborhood called on the army and the Internal Security Forces to be evacuated from the area.
In Beirut, Assir supporters blocked a road in the Verdun and Tarik al-Jdide neighborhoods to protest the Sidon clashes, Naharnet reported.
Future TV said that several religious scholars from the north of the country were mediating talks with the army to reach a ceasefire.