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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid