BEIRUT: Hezbollah officials spoke out over the weekend against a military strike on Syria, warning of regional repercussions as deliberations in the U.S. Congress near their conclusion.
March 14 politicians, for their part, expressed support for the strikes while condemning any involvement by Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict.
“They are targeting Syria not for democracy or political reforms but to transform Syria’s position and resistance identity and role,” said Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, the deputy head of Hezbollah’s executive council. “They want, through its destruction, to surround and weaken the resistance and make it bleed.”
The U.S. is weighing military strikes against the Syrian regime as a response to the use of chemical weapons, allegedly carried out by government forces, in a suburb of Damascus in August.
Qaouq, speaking at a memorial service Sunday, said the U.S.’s allies in the fight against Syria were Israel, the Gulf states and “takfiris,” a catchall term used by Hezbollah to describe Islamic fundamentalists that the party says want to sow chaos and sectarian strife in Syria and Lebanon.
He said the March 14 political bloc was betting that a Western intervention in Syria would alter the domestic political calculus in Lebanon.
“Do they believe that the result of the aggression on Syria will be to their benefit?” Qaouq asked. “Did you take into consideration the possibility that the aggression against Syria could fail?”
Qaouq argued that the majority of Syrians killed so far were regime supporters, saying the Assad government could not have survived for over two-and-a-half years if it did not enjoy the support of most of the population.
He also condemned what he called American hypocrisy over chemical weapons, saying past atrocities disqualified the U.S. from standing up to chemical weapons use.
“America, which committed the gravest massacres against humanity in history, wants to hold the regime accountable for alleged use of chemical weapons,” he said. “In one minute, it killed more than 150,000 innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
But statements by March 14 bloc MPs served to highlight Lebanon’s political schism.
MP Ammar Houry said Hezbollah was worried and waiting to see how the situation in Syria would develop.
Houry expressed disappointment in Russia’s opposition to a military strike while praising the European Union’s stance, which endorsed a “clear and strong response” to the chemical attack but urged the U.S. to wait for the results of a U.N. inspection of the chemical attack site.
Houry said the position was beneficial to the alliance being built by the U.S., though he said that March 14 was not relying on the results on any American military strike on Syria.
The Future MP said a military strike would be directed at the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons and its “repeated criminality against the [Syrian] people.”
Houry added that Hezbollah was capable of restoring stability to Lebanon by withdrawing from Syria, and called on Hezbollah to avoid the “regional game” and “return to the Lebanese arena and act like a political party like the other parties.”
Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said Hezbollah was ready to intervene in Syria and forcibly involve Lebanon in the Syrian conflict if an American strike went ahead. He held the government responsible for preventing fallout from a military strike from reaching Lebanon.
The potential strikes continued to spur opposition in Lebanon among pro-regime groups. The Syrian Social Nationalist Party held a protest in front of the U.N.’s ESCWA headquarters in Beirut, and a group of youth activists affiliated with March 8 political parties held weekend rallies near the U.S. Embassy.
The debate over intervention coincided with pitched battles over the Christian historical city of Maaloula in Syria, which sparked increasing concern among Lebanon’s Christians.
Caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said a military strike on Syria would lead to an exodus of Christians from the country.
“We reject war and calls for war instead of a peaceful solution [in Syria],” the minister said at a news conference Sunday.
Bassil’s call came a day after Pope Francis called for reconciliation in Syria as he led a mass peace vigil on St. Peter’s Square, and millions of Catholics worldwide were joined by other faiths in a day of fasting and prayer.