News / Middle East

Syria Conflict Puts Hezbollah Ally in Delicate Position

Travelers carry their luggage, as they walk towards the Beirut Rafik Hariri international airport after some of the families of 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria blocked the highway leading to Beirut airport to protest the Lebanese government's fail
Travelers carry their luggage, as they walk towards the Beirut Rafik Hariri international airport after some of the families of 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria blocked the highway leading to Beirut airport to protest the Lebanese government's fail
Scott Bobb
BEIRUT - The conflict in Syria is having a spillover effect on many of its neighbors and placing some allies of the Syrian government in a delicate position. Violence is affecting Lebanon's Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah.

The kidnapping in Syria last month of 11 Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims returning from Iran has highlighted the delicate links between Syria's conflict and various sectarian groups in neighboring Lebanon.

The main Syrian opposition alliance has denied responsibility for the kidnappings. But a previously unknown Syrian rebel group says it is holding the pilgrims until the Syrian government stops attacking innocent civilians.  The kidnappers say five of the pilgrims are members of Hezbollah which they accuse of supporting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah is a long-standing ally of the Syrian government, which has supplied the group with arms, training and money to fight Israel. But lately, Hezbollah leaders have criticized the violence in Syria and have expressed support for democratic reform there.

The head of the International Affairs Institute of the American University of Beirut, Rami Khouri, says Hezbollah is in a difficult situation.

“The Syrian government is important for them for logistical and political reasons. And therefore they don't want to be opposing the Syrian government. What Syria is doing is awkward for them so they've found this middle ground where they talk about the need to reform and solve the political issues in Syria peacefully but it's not very convincing," Khouri stated. "People are very clear [understand] that Hezbollah would like the regime to stay."

Nevertheless, the Syrian government has been angered by Hezbollah's position and relations have cooled.

An editor for the Al Akhbar newspaper that is close to Hezbollah, Omar Nashabe, says Hezbollah's relations with the Syrian government have fluctuated over time. "The nature of the relationship is pragmatic," he said. "It is a relationship that is related to capacity. Hezbollah is a party that is very reasonable when it comes to its role and its function."

Hezbollah's leaders say their main goals are to strengthen political Islam and combat what they call the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

Yet, the leaders of Hezbollah, like those of its rival Lebanese Shi'ite political group - Amal - have called on Lebanese to remain calm following a series of sectarian clashes in Lebanon sparked by the Syrian conflict.

American University of Beirut professor Hillal Khashem says this is because the two groups have made substantial political gains since the end of the Lebanese civil war two decades ago.

"Neither Hezbollah nor Amal are interested in creating an atmosphere of tension and putting at risk the achievements that accrued to the Shi'ite community over the past 20 years. Therefore they have a vested interest in maintaining a semblance of quiet in the country," Khashem stated.

Nashabe notes that Hezbollah has condemned the violence by the Syrian military and its allied militias against civilians. But he says it should be remembered that a significant portion of the Syrian population still supports the Assad government. "Hezbollah believes that it should be up to the Syrian people to decide what their fate is. But Hezbollah agrees with the Chinese position and with the Russian position that there is a proportion of the Syrian people who support Assad," he said.

He criticizes Western and Arab governments that say the Assad regime has lost all legitimacy and must relinquish power.

"This insistence on the removal of President Assad by all possible means is contrary to the spirit of U.N. charter. It is contrary to any reasonable initiative to find a peaceful solution [because the situation is going to lead to suffering]," Nashabe added.

Nashabe says the only solution is for all sides to stop fighting and engage in dialogue.

But that has not happened.  And the Syrian opposition, which has seen thousands of its supporters killed in what began as peaceful demonstrations, says it will no longer accept any solution other than the departure of the Assad regime.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
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 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 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 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 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 After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

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 Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

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.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs