The Lebanese Army says it was the target of a “cold blooded” attack, following clashes near the southern coastal city of Sidon that claimed the lives of several soldiers.

“What happened today in Sidon went beyond all expectations. The Army was attacked cold - bloodedly and with the intent of setting off the explosion in Sidon as in 1975(the beginning of Lebanon’s Civil War) with the purpose of plunging Lebanon into the cycle of violence, ” the Army said in a strongly worded statement on Sunday.

The military also urged political and religious leaders in Sidon to make clear which side they supported: the Army or “the killers of soldiers. ”

“The leadership of the Army refuses duplicitous language and points out that the religious, spiritual leaders and lawmakers of Sidon are invited today to express in complete frankness their stance: either to stand next the Lebanese Army to protect civilians … and prevent[an explosion] or to stand beside the provokers of strife and killers of soldiers, ” it said in the statement.

At least four soldiers and two gunmen loyal to extremist leader Sheikh Ahmad Assir, were killed in clashes in Aabra, east of the southern city of Sidon.

The Army said it would not remain silent “to what it has suffered militarily and politically and will continue its mission to crack down on strife in Sidon and other parts[of the country] and strike with an iron fist whoever thinks of shedding the blood of the Army and will respond to all those who protect them politically and at the media level, ” it said.