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
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

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs