Firefight: Syrian rebels clash with Hezbollah guerrillas
BAALBEK, Lebanon: The floodwaters from the Syrian crisis rose higher in Lebanon Sunday, with Lebanese security sources reporting that for the first time fighting between Hezbollah and Syrian rebels had occurred on Lebanese soil.
A security source told The Daily Star that “the clashes, in which light and medium arms were used, took place east of the mountainous areas of the city of Baalbek near the Syrian borders where Hezbollah maintains several military bases.”
Meanwhile, a Hezbollah source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the incident took place in Ain al-Jawzeh, southeast of Baalbek, in a small pocket of Lebanon that juts into Syria. They added that the area has been frequently used by rebels as a site for launching rocket attacks.
A Hezbollah source claimed the party’s fighters ambushed at least 14 fighters from the extremist Nusra Front, which is battling the Syrian regime.
He added that one member of the party [Hezbollah] was also killed, identifying the victim as Hussein Khalil Hasan.
However, a source close to the rebel Free Syrian Army denied that the incident actually took place.
“No clashes took place in the Baalbek mountainous areas between FSA fighters and Hezbollah fighters as was reported by the Lebanese media,” the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Star.
“There were no casualties among its [the FSA’s] fighters, because they didn’t enter that region,” he continued.
The source said Hezbollah’s opponents in the clash could not have been Nusra Front fighters either, as the FSA controls the border near where the confrontation purportedly took place and none of the group’s fighters were known to have crossed into Lebanon. “Hezbollah is planting mines in the region from the villages of Ain alJawzeh and Aqabet Dardara to Qornet al-Tallaja in the Baalbek mountains where Hezbollah has military bases, and to prevent infiltration from Syrian territory into this sensitive region,” the source said. “While Hezbollah fighters were planting the mines one of them exploded and led to the killing of one fighters and the injury of four others.”
Security sources told The Daily Star that Hezbollah had been boosting its military presence in the area to prevent Syrian rebels from sneaking into the region’s valleys to launch rockets at Shiite villages in the eastern Bekaa Valley.
Also Sunday, three rockets from Syria hit the Bekaa Valley town of Hermel but caused no casualties, a security source told The Daily Star. While such attacks have mainly targeted Hermel, a barrage of Syrian rockets hit several villages in rural Baalbek for the first time Saturday at dawn.
One rocket hit Nasrieh, two landed in Nabi Sheet and a fourth hit Tamnin alTahta, the security source said. Minutes later, four more rockets hit Sireen alFawqa and another rocket hit Sireen al-Tahta. Another salvo of rockets struck the town of Sireen al-Fawqa before dawn Sunday, bringing the total to over 16.
No casualties were reported in the barrage, but a fire broke out on the outskirts of Sireen al-Fawqa as a result.
Four Syrians were arrested in the region on suspicion of being linked to the attacks, the National News Agency reported.
At 2:30 a.m. Saturday, gunmen shot at the Shiite shrine for Sayyida Khawla at the southern entrance of Baalbek, a security source said. The shrine and a nearby BMW were damaged in the incident.
Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi warned that a victory by Islamists in Syria would mean the end of Lebanon.
“If we don’t defend Lebanon against takfiri groups, this would mean that Lebanon would cease to exist at the political level because if these takfiri groups win, Lebanon will be no more. Instead, it will be divided, sects will emigrate and massacres will take place,” Musawi said.
Hezbollah’s No. 2 Sheikh Naim Qassem said his party’s involvement in Syria was aimed at defending the resistance group rather than the Syrian regime.
“We are not defending the regime in Syria; the regime is responsible for defending itself ... but we are defending the resistance project that Syria represents,” Qassem said during a memorial ceremony in the Baalbek village of Brital.
“We stepped in late after we waited patiently for the outcome [of events in Syria], but when we realized that there was a grave danger at the strategic level, we felt it our duty to intervene to remove this danger,” Qassem explained.
“Thus, we are in the position of resistance in [the city of] Qusair and elsewhere, and we succeeded in preventing strife from spreading and the resistance being stabbed in the back.”
But the Gulf Cooperation Council’s foreign ministers slammed Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria. In a statement issued following a ministers’ meeting in Jeddah, the member states said: “We observe clear intervention by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in the Syrian crisis ... in a flagrant way that has led to the increased use of Syrian territory as a battlefield.”
By Rakan al-Fakih