BEIRUT: The rebel Free Syrian Army rejects having Lebanese fighters among its ranks in battles against Syrian government forces, FSA spokesman Louay Moqdad said Thursday.
“Our battle is with the regime of Bashar Assad and we do not want to pull Lebanon into strife; this is a red line for the Free Syrian Army,” Moqdad said, adding that the FSA respects Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence.
In a television interview, Moqdad condemned a media campaign launched by supporters of controversial Sheikh Ahmad Assir, showing him firing a machine gun along with other Syrian rebels allegedly in the Qusair region of Syria.
“Such a visit [to Syria] isn’t right and word will come out that there are Lebanese fighters in the ranks of the FSA,” said Moqdad. “While this isn’t true, such news gives Hezbollah justification to intervene in Syria,” the FSA spokesman added.
His comments came after photos and video footage emerged in the last two days, showing Assir with Syrian rebel fighters, accompanied by claims that the footage documented the mosque preacher’s visit to the region of Qusair, northeast of the Lebanese town of Hermel.
The alleged visit came amid intense fighting pitting groups of Syrian rebels against the Syrian army and Hezbollah, and after Assir’s announcement last month that he was registering young men to fight in a jihad in Syria.
Moqdad dismissed Assir’s trip as a “media stunt.”
“We ask you to stop exploiting the needs of Syrians in Qusair; if you’re ‘investing’ in Syria from a religious point of view, we tell you that investing in the blood of our children is haram and unacceptable,” Moqdad said.
In still photos and video footage uploaded on social networking sites, Assir is seen holding a Kalashnikov and walking through a trench with a number of other men.
Another video shows Assir firing a machine gun at an unidentified target from a roof of a building.
A group photo shows Assir surrounded by armed rebels on a tank captured from the Syrian army.
In a telephone interview with The Daily Star Thursday, Assir said he had wished the photos and videos of him in Syria would not have been made public but said he felt proud fighting alongside the rebels.
“Yes, I was in rural Qusair and I just got back two days ago,” Assir said, adding that some of the rebels took photos and videos with their cell phones and were probably responsible for the footage online.
Assir refused to disclose the details of his trip, saying only that “the road was difficult and long.”
“First my son went and then I followed him with some others as part of our jihad for a few days,” Assir added.
Officials from General Security declined to comment on Assir’s claims when contacted by The Daily Star.
The sheikh, who said he has returned to his duties at Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in Sidon, reiterated that his visit was part of his recent fatwa for a jihad in Syria against Assad’s forces and Hezbollah.
“I wanted to coordinate with the Syrian rebels and see what they need. It turns out that Qusair needs lots of fighters, given that they are now surrounded by Assad’s army and fighters from Hezbollah,” he said.
Dismissing the statements made by Moqdad and some other FSA officials who rejected Assir’s visit to Syria, Assir said his visit increased the morale of the Syrian rebels besieged in Qusair.
“We heard some comments from other opposition officials from other parts of Syria; maybe in those areas they don’t need help,” Assir said.