News / Middle East

    Hezbollah Fighters Pose New Threat In Syria

    Syrians inspect the rubble of damaged buildings due to government airstrikes in Qusair, Syria, May 18, 201
    Syrians inspect the rubble of damaged buildings due to government airstrikes in Qusair, Syria, May 18, 201
    The civil war in Syria is taking a new, and possibly ominous turn, in the battle for Qusair, a small but strategic town near the frontier with Lebanon.
     
    For the first time, the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been fighting Syrian troops backed by a large contingent of battle-hardened guerrillas from Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shia movement.  Assad is a member of the Alawi Muslim sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
     
    Some of the most effective units among the anti-Assad rebels trying to keep their hold on Qusair are from the Jabhat al-Nusra front, an al-Qaida affiliated group, many of whose members come from other Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries.
     
    According to Western diplomats, a showdown between Hezbollah and al-Nusra fighters holds serious risks for Lebanon, threatening that country’s already fragile ethnic and religious balance. For the wider Arab world, clashes between the two groups also could aggravate already tensions between Shiites and Sunnis.
     
    Foreign fighters’ battle
     
    “You have got two of the most vicious factions in this war facing off over the most strategically important territory for the Assad regime and territory worthy for both sides of the most extreme fighting,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. “This is a foreign fighters’ battle.”
     
    Assad’s forces attacking from the north and Hezbollah from the south are thought now to have an edge at Qusair, having made inroads deep into the town. Even so, the revels say they still hold important districts.
     
    Qusair lies at a junction between the Syrian capital of Damascus and the country’s third largest city Homs and could be a crucial if, as some regional experts suspect, Assad has a worst-case scenario plan of fashioning a rump Alawi state to the north and east of Lebanon.
     
    But the fight in Qusair is taking its toll on Hezbollah, judging by the sudden increase in the number of martyrdom announcements from the Lebanese Shia movement and it supporters. Pro-Hezbollah Facebook pages that are vetted by the movement’s media department have been announcing newly fallen fighters, mostly saying they were “killed while performing jihad duties.”
     
    Hezbollah announcing battle deaths
     
    Some of the announcements mention Qusair as the location. Last weekend, more than 20 Hezbollah fighters were mourned on the Facebook pages as having fallen in battle. Rebel sources claim up to a hundred Hezbollah fighters have been killed in the past few days in and around the town.
     
    “These announcements coincided with some of the heaviest fighting witnessed since the start of an over-a-month-long, combined pro-Bashar Assad, and Hezbollah offensive,” according to Aaron Zelin, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
     
    Hezbollah fighters and al-Nusra rebels have clashed elsewhere in Syria, in Homs and Aleppo, but in smaller scale fights. Hezbollah leaders have admitted in the past that their fighters have engaged in the conflict but said they were doing so as individuals.
     
    In recent weeks, Hezbollah forces have been engaged in Shiite villages on the Syrian side of the border along a 50 kilometer stretch in the mountainous al-Nabk area about 80 kilometers north of Damascus, say Lebanese intelligence sources.
     
    Nasrallah enters the fray
     
    On April 30, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah edged closer to acknowledging publicly that the powerful Shia movement’s fighters were engaged in the civil war raging next door. In a televised address, he warned that Syria had “real friends.”
     
    Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, 30 Nov 2009Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, 30 Nov 2009
    x
    Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, 30 Nov 2009
    Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, 30 Nov 2009
    “You won’t be able to bring down Damascus and you cannot bring down the regime, militarily,” Nasrallah said, adding, “The battle will be long.”
     
    With fighting intensifying in Qusair, medical clinics in the Hezbollah stronghold of the Bekaa valley made appeals for blood donations to help treat wounded Lebanese Shia fighters.
     
    On Tuesday, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) accused Nasrallah of responsibility for the carnage in Qusair.
     
    “Hassan Nasrallah will be held personally responsible for the current situation because he in person is meeting with all of [his fighters] before they head to Qusair,” FSA spokesperson Louay Almokdad told Al Arabiya English.
     
    The FSA’s military commander, General Salim Idris, has warned in the past that Hezbollah involvement would be met with retaliation and the targeting of its strongholds in Lebanon.

    You May Like

    California Republicans Mull Choices in Presidential Race

    Ted Cruz tells state's Republican Convention delegates campaign will be 'battle on the ground, district by district by district,' ahead of June 7 primary

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are trying to escape turmoil by focusing on success of football team Amedspor

    South African Company Designs Unique Solar Cooker

    Two-man team of solar power technologists introduces Sol4, hot plate that heats up so fast it’s like cooking with gas or electricity

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora