08202014Wed

Syrian rebels threaten to hit Hezbollah targets in Lebanon

The Washington Post

By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Ahmed Ramadan

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels on Tuesday threatened to carry out attacks against Hezbollah inside Lebanon, a dangerous escalation of the conflict that could destabilize Syria’s politically volatile neighbor as well as the region.

The heightened tensions on both sides of the border came as four mortar rounds hit one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s palaces in Damascus on Tuesday, according to opposition activists.

The presidential media office issued a statement saying that the mortar rounds had landed near the palace, not inside the palace grounds, without causing serious damage.

A video posted online showed rebel fighters describing the targeting of the Tishreen palace in the northwest section of the capital before firing several mortar rounds with shouts of “God is great.”

There was no statement from either side as to whether Assad was in the palace at the time.

Rebel forces have made a concerted push into the capital in the past 10 days, sparking heavy fighting after several weeks of relative stalemate. Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, estimated last week that nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the war.

And in another sign of the heavy toll that the conflict has taken on civilians, the World Health Organization announced Tuesday that about 2,500 people have been infected with typhoid in northeastern Syria because of unsanitary conditions.

Tuesday’s threat to bring the fight to Lebanon, issued by the Free Syrian Army, came after several days of clashes between Syrian rebels and militants from Hezbollah around Qusayr, a Syrian town near the Lebanese border, and a handful of smaller villages in the area, according to the rebels. Hezbollah has not officially responded to the Free Syrian Army statement.

Hezbollah is the most powerful military and political force in Lebanon, and it runs an extensive network of social programs. Last fall, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah acknowledged that some of the organization’s military personnel were inside Syria, but said they were not involved in combat.

A rebel attack on Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon could have broad regional implications. Hezbollah is closely allied with Iran, which is one of Assad’s strongest backers. The Syrian rebels, on the other hand, have largely been supported by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

There also is a potentially explosive sectarian dynamic as Hezbollah and Iran are both predominantly Shiite Muslim while most members of the Syrian opposition — and the bulk of their foreign backers — are Sunni Muslim.

Although Syrian rebels say Hezbollah fighters are involved in clashes in Syrian territory, the Free Syrian Army’s warning Tuesday specifically addressed the issue of shelling from Hermel, a town in northern Lebanon where Hezbollah has many supporters. The rebels say Hezbollah militants fired rockets from the Hermel area in support of operations carried out by the Syrian military just across the border.

The rebels gave Hezbollah 48 hours to stop the shelling or face retaliation.

“If the Hezbollah shelling on the Syrian land, on the villages and unarmed civilians, from inside the Lebanese land does not stop in the next 48 hours from the release of this statement, we will take matters in our own hands to respond to the source of the shooting and stop it inside Lebanese territory,” the statement said.

Videos posted online of the recent fighting in Qusayr purportedly show Syrian rebels firing rockets toward Hezbollah positions. In some of the videos, fighters refer to the Hezbollah militants with a derogatory name for Shiites.

Rebel fighters say several Hezbollah militants have been killed in the recent clashes, which appear to be the worst fighting in the border area since the Syrian conflict began nearly two years ago.

“If Hezbollah does not stop its land invasion, which is accompanied by covering fire, we are allowed to retaliate according to international law. We can retaliate to any fire coming across the borders,” said Loay Meqdad, an Free Syrian Army spokesman. “And if they do not stop, we will retaliate.”

Suzan Haidamous contributed to this report.

Search

Act of Cowardice

Iran's ruling tyrants have executed yet another political prisoner in flagrant violation of international law.  READ MORE

The rush to Tehran amidst rise in executions

World leaders should halt these visits and link any deal with Iran to its human rights record.  READ MORE

Arming a dictator

What if President Obama ordered the sale of arms to Syrian dictator to massacre his opponents? READ MORE

Slaughter intensifies under Rouhani

231 executions have occurred since the presidential election in June which brought to power Hassan Rouhani. READ MORE

Silence is not the answer

Iran: Bloody crackdown targeting dissidents aims at terrorizing the people into submission. READ MORE

Iran’s Murder Machine

The wheels of Iran's Murder Machine turn in tandem with its nuclear machine. READ MORE

What now?

The West must drop the dangerous pretence that talking to a regime not interested in listening constitutes the winning strategy. READ MORE

A facelift

This cosmetic facelift should not dupe the West into thinking that there are fresh prospects for a nuclear deal. READ MORE

An Act of Cowardice

The terrorist attack against Iranian exiles at Camp Liberty, Iraq, is another sign of Iranian regime's weakness. READ MORE

Much atalk about nothing

In Istanbul they merely agreed to talk about talking later in May in Baghdad, of all places. READ MORE

An unholy alliance

The brutal state-imposed bloodbath in Syria deserves uncompromising reproach. READ MORE

Iran cries for freedom

The clerical regime in Iran has predictably unleashed another wave of terror against the citizenry since the outburst of the latest string of mass protests beginning on 14 February. READ MORE

A new Iran policy

The latest round of nuclear talks had an all-too-familiar result: more time for Tehran and less time for the international community to prevent a nuclear-armed theocracy. READ MORE

Murder overlooked

What would the rest of us do if a mad gunman was in our midst, systematically murdering our fellow human beings in front of our eyes? The responsible amongst us would not look the other way, because that would serve as a source of encouragement for the murderers to carry on with their heinous acts unchecked. READ MORE

Standing up to Iran's executioners

The Iranian regime's malicious noose has yet again taken an innocent life. Political prisoner Ali Saremi, 63, was hanged in Tehran's infamous Evin prison after a lifetime of peacefully espousing human rights and democracy. READ MORE