News / Middle East

Syrian Opposition Accuses Hezbollah of Widening War

A view shows debris along a street of damaged buildings by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Homs, Apr. 8, 2013.
A view shows debris along a street of damaged buildings by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Homs, Apr. 8, 2013.
Syria's opposition is accusing the Lebanese Hezbollah movement of declaring war on the Syrian people amid reports the Shi'ite militia's fighters have joined government forces in a battle against rebels in the central province of Homs.

Anti-government activists in the Syrian town of al-Qusayr, outside Homs, have reported mounting Hezbollah casualties in the last week as fighting heats up in the strategic pocket along the Lebanese border.

The opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission said Free Syrian Army forces killed 18 Hezbollah fighters in clashes earlier this week.

An activist who uses the pseudonym Abo Emad said that Hezbollah has been firing rockets into the area from the hills above Lebanon's northern Bekaa Valley for months.  He said FSA fighters retook two villages in the fighting, capturing 10 Hezbollah militiamen and killing a commander.

"We took some prisoners and have their [identification cards]," said Abo Emad.  "Because of the clashes and the battle we now have 10 prisoners and a lot of [additional Hezbollah fighters] were killed," he said.

Recruitment

The extent of Hezbollah's engagement in Syria cannot be independently verified.

Long an ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah has denied involvement in the Syrian fighting, saying it is helping Lebanese Shi'ites living in border towns and villages to defend themselves against rebel assaults.

But the group's recruitment efforts have increased the flow of Shi'ite fighters crossing the border, according to Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

"Some of the people who are going to fight are actually Hezbollah. Some of the people more recently who are going to fight are Hezbollah militias they have created - popular committees they call them," Levitt said.

He put at 200 the number of known Lebanese Shi'ites killed in Syria over the last two years - an estimate he said comes by a count of reported martyrs' funerals for those with a "clear connection to Hezbollah."

Most experts agree the Lebanese militia has been involved in the Syrian conflict almost from the start.

The U.S. Treasury Department last August announced an extension of sanctions against Hezbollah for its support of the Syrian government, accusing the group of providing training, advice and extensive logistical support to Assad's military campaign.

Strategic corridor

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said the Assad government "some time ago effectively handed over defensive security responsibilities" to Hezbollah for a number of Shi'ite villages in the al-Nabak area north of Damascus.

But he said the militia's involvement in offensive operations in rebel-held territory has escalated mostly in the last 10 days.

"What's new is the fighting in a slightly different area, near Qusayr, further north, between the city of Homs and the region further west," Salem said.  "That is not an area of Shi'ite villages, not an area where Hezbollah previously had a social and political presence," he added.

Liberating Sunni-held territory around Homs is crucial to preparing a possible retreat for Syrian government leaders to coastal provinces that are a stronghold Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

"Hezbollah has a particular role in helping the Syrian regime maintain a strategic belt that links the capital to the northwest Alawi homeland," said Salem.

Weapons resupply

Among Hezbollah's numerous reasons to want a so-called "Alawistan" along Syria's western coast, Levitt said, the most important is to "maintain a land bridge for the resupply of Iranian weapons."

Traditionally, most of Hezbollah's arsenal is smuggled into Lebanon from Syria.  But the fall of the Assad government would complicate Hezbollah's ability to restock following a future war with Israel.

Creating and maintaining an Alawite enclave would ensure continued access to the sea through the ports of Tartous, Banias and Latakia, allowing the weapons flow to continue via the secured corridor.

"The group is part of a broader Iranian alliance system [and] it doesn't want that system to break in Damascus.  The Iranians are helping, Hezbollah is helping, Iraq's Maliki government is reluctantly helping," Salem said.

A major political and military force, Hezbollah was assisted by the Syrian regime when it occupied Lebanon during its civil war.  Syria, too, has been a conduit for helping Hezbollah maintain its strong relationship with Iran.

Hezbollah is considered a terrorist group by the United States and Israel.

Fears for Lebanon

The Syrian opposition's new interim leader, George Sabra, said in Istanbul this week that "the Lebanese president and the Lebanese government should realize the danger" that Hezbollah poses to the lives of Syrians and regional relations.

Days later, two Lebanese Sunni sheikhs issued fatwas urging their followers to join Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad, calling their struggle a "jihadist duty."

The Syrian government has attacked suspected rebel supply routes inside Lebanon with artillery and warplanes.  But conditions in Syria are also pushing pro-Assad forces into the northern Bekaa Valley.

"If you want to move from Damascus into [Syria's] Alawi areas now, whether you are Hezbollah or the Syrians, the only assured way to go is through the Bekaa because the territory between the capital and traditional coastal Alawi enclaves is not controlled by the regime," Levitt said.

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid