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Lebanese troops quell violence

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By The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 9:57 p.m.
 

BEIRUT — Lebanese troops detonated booby traps at a complex captured from followers of a hard-line Sunni cleric on Tuesday, securing the area after two days of fighting that left dozens dead in the port city of Sidon.

Soldiers who blocked off several office and residential buildings around the mosque where Ahmad al-Assir once preached told reporters they were clearing the complex of explosives. An Associated Press photographer on the scene heard several explosions and saw black smoke billowing during the operation.

The fate of Al-Assir, a maverick Sunni sheik who controlled the complex for about two years, is unknown.

His rapid rise in popularity among Sunnis underscored the deep frustration of many Lebanese who resent the influence Shiites have gained in government via the militant group Hezbollah.

At least 17 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in the fighting while more than 20 of al-Assir's supporters died in the battle, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to reporters.

The fighting, some of the worst involving Lebanese troops in years, was seen as a test of the weak government's ability to contain the furies unleashed by the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Despite the heavy death toll, the military appeared to have successfully put down the threat from al-Assir and his armed supporters by late Monday.

The U.S. embassy in Beirut urged Americans to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of safety and security concerns.

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