Lebanese army forces searching for an influential Sunni cleric who has backed Syrian rebels were forced on Tuesday to defuse bombs planted by his followers while on the run in southern Lebanon.

Ahmed al-Assir, who supports opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, had fled his complex following clashes between his followers and Syrian troops in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon that left at least 18 soldiers dead.

Weapons, including rocket launchers and machine guns, were eventually found inside the cleric’s headquarters, said a Lebanese army officer.

Tensions in the area began in recent weeks when Mr. al-Assir attacked the Shiite movement Hezbollah, whose militants are fighting in Syria alongside government forces.

Hezbollah has condemned the clashes. “The army is the guarantor of civil peace in Lebanon and any attack against it is tantamount to an attack against the entire nation”, Hezbollah said.

The conflict in Syria has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

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