BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s third-largest city was turned into a battle zone Monday as the military battled heavily armed followers of an extremist Sunni cleric holed up in a mosque in a southern port city.


Residents fled as machine gun fire and grenade explosions shook the coastal area in one of the deadliest rounds of violence, seen as a test of the weak state’s ability to contain the furies unleashed by Syria’s civil war.


At least 16 soldiers were killed in two days of clashes with armed followers of Ahmad al-Assir, a maverick sheikh whose rapid rise among the ranks of some Sunnis is a symptom of the deep frustration among many who resent the Hezbollah-led Shiite ascendancy to power in Lebanon.


The fierce fight that al-Assir’s fighters were putting up showed how aggressive Sunni extremists have grown in Lebanon.


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Lebanon clashes present test for weak military