Lebanon army to probe abuse by troops, military source says

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Lebanon’s army will investigate alleged abuse by troops against a man suspected of supporting a radical Sunni cleric whose men fought troops near the southern city of Sidon, a military source said Thursday.

The probe comes after amateur video emerged showing several troops kicking and humiliating a suspect after tying his hands behind his back during an interrogation.

Lebanese troops fought supporters of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir in Abra near Sidon last weekend in a major gun battle that lasted 24 hours.

Assir is now on the run. Eighteen troops were killed in the Abra clash.

“The commander in chief of the armed forces has ordered a major investigation” into the abuse incident, a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Those guilty, whatever their rank, will be punished because these are acts that go against the ethics of the army.”

The video footage shows during the interrogation the man saying he worked in Sheikh Assir’s mosque, but that he has no weapons and had nothing to do with the fighting.

“I have no weapons... I don’t like him (Assir), may God curse him,” says the man, visibly afraid.

“Liar!” cries out a soldier.

Wearing a white T-shirt, the suspect is seated on the ground, cross-legged, and some dozen troops are seen surrounding him.

The video shows one man in civilian clothing hitting him, then a soldier kicking him, and finally several others joining in.

A man is heard ordering those filming with their telephones to stop, and the footage ends abruptly.

The Abra clash was the worst in Lebanon ever since the outbreak of conflict in neighbouring Syria 27 months ago.

The Syrian conflict has deepened sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

Although Assir’s extremist discourse was unpopular among members of his Sunni sect, the army’s campaign against him has raised questions over why the military has failed to use the same force against the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah.

Sunni clerics have accused the army of covering for Hezbollah, whose troops are fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria.

Unknown just two years ago, Assir gained prominence in Lebanon because of his virulently anti-Hezbollah, sectarian discourse.

In a separate development, Hezbollah evacuated two apartments in Abra Thursday near Assir’s headquarters, after the runaway cleric had accused the group of stocking arms there and of spying on him.

“We have evacuated the buildings in order to keep the peace in the area,” a Hezbollah source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

A military source confirmed the report.

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