By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIRUT, LEBANON (BosNewsLife)– Lebanese security forces prepared to crackdown on Islamic insurgents Friday, June 25, after threatening leaflets were found calling on Christians to leave a key port city and a bomb blast that killed at least one person in a predominantly Christian town.
Officials said they already detained this week two suspects accused of distributing the threatening publications in the southern port city of Sidon. Those arrested were not immediately identified.
The leaflets included Islamic slogans and warned Christians in the area to “spare their lives by evacuating the area within one week” or “bear the consequences,” Lebanese media reported.
Underscoring the seriousness of the threats was a bomb blast last weekend that ripped through a car parts shop in eastern Lebanon, killing one person and injuring two others, an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The explosion reportedly occurred shortly before midnight Saturday, June 19, in an industrial neighborhood of the predominantly Christian town of Zahle.
The blast reportedly came a few hours before a visit to Zahle by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, the head of the Christian Maronite community.
There were concerns Friday, June 25, of a similar attack in the southern port city Sidon as a deadline approached for Christians to leave.
But Internal Security Forces southern commander Brig. Gen. Munzir Ayoubi, who with Maronite Catholic church leaders made clear his forces would not allow Islamic militants to destroy what he called “an example of Islamic-Christian coexistence.”
He said security forces would step up patrols. Clashes between rival Lebanese fighters in the 1980s forced many Christian residents in the region to flee their homes.
Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said the distribution of the leaflets was an attempt to weaken the state and the central government.
However Elie Haddad, the archbishop for Sidon, said that after talking with Lebanese military officials he was optimistic that the latest tensions would not lead to renewed sectarian conflict in Lebanon.
“I reassure the locals of East Sidon and of the entire region that strife will not occur,” the archbishop told reporters.
The World Tribune newspaper quoted officials of Lebanese Prime Minister Said Hariri as saying that Christians around the southern Sidon region have come “under steady attack from Islamists believed aligned with Al Qaida.”
Sidon has a Palestinian refugee camp of Ein Hilwe, said to include a significant presence of Al Qaida supporters, the newspaper said. Over the last two years, several bombings around Sidon have been traced to Ein Hilwe, the paper added. There was no immediate response from Palestinian representatives.
But Bishop Haddad said in published remarks that “Palestinian brothers have expressed their solidarity” with Lebanese Christians.