Updated June 24, 2013, 11:11 pm
SIDON, Lebanon (AFP) – Sixteen soldiers have been killed in clashes with supporters of a radical Sunni cleric in southern Lebanon, the army said Monday, in violence tied to rising sectarian tensions fanned by the Syria conflict.
The fighting began on Sunday on the outskirts of the city of Sidon and intensified on Monday, residents and local media said.
The security cabinet, including Lebanon’s army chief, pledged the military would fight until it “finishes with” Salafist Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir.
A military judge issued a warrant for the controversial cleric’s arrest, a judicial source said.
The violence is among the worst in Lebanon since the start of the Syrian conflict, which has inflamed sectarian tensions in the country, particularly between Shiite supporters of the Damascus regime and Sunni backers of the uprising.
“Sheikh Assir will stay in the mosque until the last drop of blood.”