News / Middle East

Syrian Conflict Draws in Assad Ally Hezbollah, Widens His Rift with Hamas

The body of a Syrian woman is seen near Izaz's Hospital after being shot by a sniper in the countryside around Izaz, near the Turkish border with Syria, October 1, 2012.
The body of a Syrian woman is seen near Izaz's Hospital after being shot by a sniper in the countryside around Izaz, near the Turkish border with Syria, October 1, 2012.
Syria's civil war appears to be drawing in Lebanese Hezbollah militants allied to President Bashar al-Assad while at the same time widening a rift between the Syrian leader and his former Palestinian militant allies Hamas.

In reports published Tuesday, Western news agencies quote Lebanese sources and Syrian activists as saying that a senior Hezbollah commander and two other Hezbollah fighters have been killed near the Syrian town of Qusair, bordering northern Lebanon. The reports say the three Hezbollah men were killed in a Syrian rebel ambush on Saturday or Sunday.

Syrian rebels have accused Hezbollah of helping President Assad to fight an 18-month uprising against his autocratic rule. The Lebanese militant group has maintained strong political support for the Syrian president during the conflict but has not admitted to any military activity inside Syria.

Hezbollah identified the slain Hezbollah commander as Ali Hussein Nassif. It said he and the other militants were killed while engaging in jihad duties but did not disclose the location. Hezbollah's al-Manar television network broadcast the funerals of the fighters in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Tuesday.

In another development, Syrian state television has made a scathing verbal attack on Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, a former ally of Assad. In an editorial broadcast late Monday, the network accused Mashaal of turning his back on the Syrian government and betraying the Palestinian cause.

The commentary appeared to be a reaction to Mashaal's appearance at an Ankara conference organized by Turkey's ruling party on Sunday. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been one of President Assad's strongest critics in the region.

Syria granted Hamas leader Mashaal a refuge in 1999, when Jordan expelled him for involvement in illicit activities. Syria shared Hamas' hostility toward Israel and included the Palestinian militant group in an "axis of resistance" with Iran and Hezbollah.

But, Mashaal began distancing his Sunni Muslim group from Assad in the past year, as the minority Alawite leader intensified a deadly crackdown on the rebellion, led by Syria's majority Sunnis. Mashaal closed the Hamas office in Damascus earlier this year and relocated to predominantly-Sunni Qatar, while other Hamas officials moved to Egypt, where a Sunni Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, took office in June.

In the latest fighting in Syria, a rights group told VOA that government and rebel forces exchanged fire in almost every province on Tuesday, from Daraa in the south to Aleppo in the north. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 20 people were killed in Daraa, while five bodies were found in Aleppo.

Syria's state-run SANA news agency said security forces operating in Aleppo killed a group of terrorists destroyed "explosives factories."

Meanwhile, Russia urged the NATO alliance not to intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict in support of the rebels. Speaking in Moscow on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said NATO also should not "introduce initiatives such as humanitarian corridors or buffer zones."

Assad is a longtime Russian ally. Moscow has vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have condemned his suppression of the revolt.

Iraq has largely avoided taking sides in the Syrian conflict, but it appeared to increase the pressure on Assad on Tuesday, ordering an Iranian plane bound for Syria to land in Baghdad to be searched for illicit weapons. Iraqi officials said no weapons were found and the plane was allowed to continue its journey to Damascus.

It was the first Iraqi weapons inspection of an Iranian aircraft since Washington called on Baghdad to prevent Iran from flying military supplies to the Syrian government through Iraqi airspace.

Photo Gallery

  • A picture shows damages in a section of the souk in the old city of Aleppo after the area was shelled by Syrian regime forces on September 30, 2012.
  • This image taken from video obtained from Shaam News Network (SNN) shows a fire rages at a medieval souk in Aleppo, Syria, September 29, 2012.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters gather at an old Turkish bath, or hamam, which served as a rebel base, in the souk of the old city of Aleppo, Syria, September 24, 2012.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter sleeps at an old Turkish bath, or hamam, which served as a rebel base, in the souk of the old city of Aleppo, Syria, September 24, 2012.
  • Free Syrian Army fighter sit at one of their positions next to closed shops at the souk in the old city of Aleppo city, Syria, September 24, 2012.
  • In this picture taken on Monday September 24, 2012, A Free Syrian Army fighter, left, helps traders, right, as they remove their stock from their shops, in the souk of the old city of Aleppo, Syria. September 24, 2012.
  • People shop at the main market, or souk, in the Syrian city of Aleppo, June 23, 2010.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous from: America
October 03, 2012 12:34 PM
It has been repeated on forums for over a year what has happened in Syria. The events in Syria started as peaceful marches for basic human rights for the Syrian people. The Regime responded with batons, beatings and bullets. When protesters tried to defend themselves, the Regime responded with tanks. When the Syrian people fought back, the Regime responded with massacres, helicopter gunships and indiscriminate bombings by planes. So here how the story ends, the Assad Gangster Regime and its supporters will run to Iran in exile or literally be murdered in the streets in revenge. It will take years to rebuild Syria and establishing a secular democracy in the aftermath of this carnage will be very challenging.

by: Romildo Caldas from: Brazil
October 02, 2012 3:31 PM
Certainly, Bashar al-Alassad is a Dictator. He wants to perpetuate himself in power. It would be better that, an Estabelished Agreement be signed by the two warring factions, with the proposal of Immediate Democratic Elections. Militar International Intervention; NEVER!

by: Michael from: USA
October 02, 2012 9:29 AM
Its tragedy when the official who stops you for questioning has the power to shoot you dead, this is where many American do not comprehend

by: Norman from: USA
October 02, 2012 7:56 AM
UN cannot impose one sided ban on atrocities. It must ban the terrorists who are doing the same thing to Syria they did to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The rebels must be stopped from destruction as should be government forces. Without peace keepers on the ground, accepted by all sides, Syria will become a desolate place for humans. Warmongers do not care about people. They like to sell weapons and destroy so they can sell construction materials later and take control of the oilfields.
In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
October 04, 2012 12:24 PM
Norman (USA) who are you referring to? After gathering ant-infested firewood, the Syrians have invited the lizard. It cannot be the other way round. Neither Syria nor any of its allies in the region has proved worthy of being in charge of itself, let alone its neighbors. They deserve what they get. Imagine being friends with Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran: what a terrorist Syria must have been, and what a nuissance to its neighbors! Now it's al qaida and new terror groups whose names are yet to be unveiled. Do you still think these people deserve sympathy?

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