Lebanese President Michel Suleiman ordered the arrest of those responsible for the clash between Sunni and Shiite Muslim gunmen in the southern city of Sidon that left three people dead.
Suleiman warned against the “dangers of sliding toward internal conflict,” the official National News Agency said today. His comments came a day after the clashes that pitted followers of hardline Sunni cleric Sheik Ahmad al-Assir against members of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
The fighting erupted after Hezbollah fighters put up banners on the occasion of Ashura, which marks the death 14 centuries ago of a Muslim leader, Imam Hussein, the prophet Muhammad’s grandson, in Sidon. The dead included two of al-Assir’s bodyguards and an Egyptian man, according to NNA. It said a Hezbollah official was among two men injured in the violence.
Earlier this year, al-Assir and his supporters set up tents in Sidon as part of a sit-in that lasted more than a month to protest against Hezbollah’s weapons arsenal. The Iranian-backed group has declined to disband following the end of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, saying it needs its arms to defend against Israeli attacks.
Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon have been on the rise since the start of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Sectarian clashes have erupted in the northern city of Tripoli and in the capital Beirut. Most Sunnis back the rebels fighting Assad, while Shiites tend to support the president.