Lebanese security forces began a hunt on Tuesday for Ahmad al-Assir, a radical cleric, after a brief skirmish with Assir’s supporters in the coastal city of Sidon that resulted in the deaths of 17 soldiers.
Troops secured Assir’s headquarters in Sidon on Monday afternoon, and afterwards worked to gain control of the city.
Security forces accused some of the forces loyal to Assir of using civilians as “human shields” and places of worship for protection and advised them to surrender, according to The Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper.
The day of clashes was the worst to hit Lebanon since the conflict in neighboring Syria began, which has worsened sectarian tensions in the country, according to AFP.
On the run
Assir is a radical Sunni cleric known for his dislike of both the Lebanese army and the country’s powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement, as well as his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’ s regime.
His whereabouts are currently not known.
A day earlier, the Lebanese military issued arrest warrants for Assir and 123 of his followers, and on Tuesday, Lebanon’s security forces were mobilized to search for him, according to a security source quoted by AFP.
“There are several hypotheses on his whereabouts,” the source said.
“Some say he is disguised as a woman and that he has travelled to Tripoli [in northern Lebanon]. Others say he may have fled to Syria.”
The source also mentioned that Assir may be hiding in Ain Al-Helweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon, according to AFP.
The fighting was condemned by many across Lebanon, including Sunni leaders wishing to distance themselves from Assir.
The violence has also raised international concern, with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemning the attacks and asking Lebanese soldiers to remain loyal.