Residents flee scene of violence as 16 soldiers are killed in continuing clashes with followers of Sunni leader.
Lebanese troops battled heavily armed followers of a Sunni cleric camped in a mosque complex in Sidon in the second day of fighting that the military says has left at least 16 soldiers dead.
The clashes which broke out on Sunday between the army and supporters of Ahmad al-Assir continued for a second day, with the Associated Press quoting a military statement saying supporters of Assir were using a religious compound in Sidon to fire on its troops, and claimed they had taken civilians as shields.
Members of the Jund al Sham and Fatah al Islam armed groups have joined the battle, she added, reporting from a village several kilometres away from Sidon.
Clashes have intensified in both areas mentioned above, with heavy weaponry being used.
Masked gunmen have moved to Sidon’s seaside road, and there were reports of further sniper attacks.
On Sunday, Assir’s supporters had surrounded an army checkpoint in Abra, on the outskirts of Sidon, where a vehicle transporting other supporters of the Sunni cleric had been stopped, a security source said.
The army were fired on, and they returned fire, the source added.
For hours afterwards, intense battles engulfed the district, closing down businesses and forcing residents to flee with their children.
The army called on the country’s politicians to take a stand.
Last week, the Sunni sheikh called on supporters to fire on apartments in Abra that he claimed housed Hezbollah members.
Abra is home to a mosque where Assir leads main Friday prayers. The sheikh believes Hezbollah uses the Abra apartments to keep him under surveillance.
His supporters clashed with Hezbollah in Abra last week that left one man dead.
Assir rose to prominence about two years ago over his opposition to Hezbollah and its ally, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.