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Amal, Hezbollah assist in arrests of sheikhs’ assailants: Charbel

Protesters block roads with burning tires and trash in Cornich al-Mazraa, Beirut, on Monday, March 18, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Hezbollah and Amal helped Lebanese Army secure the detention of 10 of the assailants behind the recent attacks against four Sunni sheikhs in Beirut, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Monday, as protests erupted once more over the incidents that raised tensions in the country.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah reiterated its condemnation of the incident and said it would not shield any of those involved in the incidents.

“Ten people have so far been detained and they are being interrogated,” Charbel told reporters after talks with Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani at Dar al-Fatwa, adding: “We need to know the motivation behind the incident ... Hezbollah and Amal cooperated with us in capturing the assailants.”

Sheikh Mazen Hariri and Sheikh Ahmad Fekhran, two Sunni scholars, were attacked in Beirut’s Khandak al-Ghamik Sunday evening shortly after leaving the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque in the downtown area.

In a separate incident later Sunday, Sheikh Ibrahim Abd al-Lattif and Sheikh Omar Imani were attacked in Shiyah on their way to Chtaura in the Bekaa Valley.

The assault on the Muslim scholars with Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority, saw political leaders scramble to condemn the attack, with several warning of attempts to ignite Sunni-Shiite strife that could plunge the country into an all-out conflict.

Protesters, still outraged over the incident, briefly blocked the roads in Qasqas and Cornich al-Mazraa with burning tires.

During the news conference at Dar al-Fatwa, Charbel said he had contacted heads of sects in the country, who he said had unanimously denounced the incident, “particularly Hezbollah and Amal.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah's Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem contacted Qabbani, who had earlier urged Shiite leaders to lift "political cover" from the perpetrators in order to detain them.

According to Hezbollah’s media office, Qassem regarded the attack "as part of the strife [some] seek between Muslims and Lebanese” and rejected any protection for the perpetrators.

"He praised the mufti's refusal to be dragged into strife and limiting the responsibility to the assailants without holding responsible [Lebanon’s] sects, which have already disowned this condemned incident," a statement from Hezbollah said.

"Qassem urged for the judiciary to continue its work ... rejecting [political] cover by any one,” it said.

The Hezbollah official also relayed Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s insistence on the priority of Muslim and Lebanese unity as well as confronting strife.

In fiery remarks at the Maqased hospital after visiting two of the sheikhs, the mufti warned that the attack could trigger a sectarian conflict and asked Shiite political and military leaders to lift political cover from the perpetrators.

“From this point, strife begins. This is how it begins when some shave the beards of Sunni Muslim scholars," he said, adding that what the incidents were the result of a "political war" and provocative rhetoric.

The mufti, who has recently handed over day-to-day management of Dar al-Fatwa to Muslim scholars over disputes with the top Sunni administrative body, also said that the campaign against him by Sunni political officials had paved the way for the perpetrators “to dare and assault the preachers.”

Also Monday, the Committee of Muslim Scholars met with the head of the Lebanese Army Gen. Jean Kahwagi at his office in Yarze.

The military chief affirmed "the military’s determination to fend off strife and confront swiftly and firmly any breaches to citizens' security and stability in various Lebanese areas.”

Various Lebanese officials condemned the incident, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati blaming the culture of violence in the country on political rhetoric.

“What happened last night reaffirms the need that all parties in Lebanon stop firing up [their partisans] and stop the tense rhetoric instead of trying to evade collective responsibility to protect the country and throw unsubstantiated accusations on the government,” Mikati said in a statement.

 

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