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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid