BEIRUT: As Hezbollah and its supporters prepared to celebrate the May 25, 2000, withdrawal of Israeli troops from south Lebanon, the atmposphere was glum at the Iran-funded Rassoul al-Aazam Hospital, where their wounded fighters, back from Syria’s Qusair, were seeking treatment.
A middle-aged man waited anxiously on a bench in the hospital’s main hall Wednesday, surrounded by members of his family. When another man emerged from the emergency room to tell him the news in a hushed tone, he burst into tears.
“We have to face it, we are dealing with the repercussions of the crisis in Syria,” said a third man.
Many others in the hospital waited impatiently for news about their loved ones. They were reluctant to speak to the media. Hezbollah men, bearded and wearing black, could be seen in and around the building.
The scene has become a common occurrence at the Rassoul al-Aazam Hospital located in a southern suburb of Beirut, as this is where the dead and wounded Hezbollah fighters are brought from the battlefields of Syria.
Hezbollah’s death toll has risen after the Syrian army, backed by the party’s fighters, launched a massive offensive in the Syrian town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon Sunday. Hezbollah fighters and Syrian troops also took over most of the rural areas in the Qusair province in the past month.
Now the old posters of Hezbollah fighters slain in the July 2006 War against Israel have been replaced with new ones of those who perished in Qusair or the suburbs of Damascus.
The party maintains it is defending the Shrine of Sayyida Zeinab, the granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad, against attacks by Syrian rebels in a suburb of Damascus.
“Of course we feel grief for the loss of young men,” said a man who works in a shop in the Beirut southern suburb of Burj al-Barajneh.
“But we also feel proud of those martyrs who are defending their villages and our shrines,” he added, refusing to be identified by the media.
Hezbollah argues that its fighters are merely defending the Lebanese-inhabited Syrian villages in Qusair along with religious shrines.
Along with the photos of new martyrs, yellow Hezbollah flags fluttered in the southern suburbs, reading: “May 25: Resistance and Liberation Day, a Will that is Never Broken.”
Saturday marks 13 years since Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon, a day the party celebrates by holding rallies across the country. For the occasion, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah will address a rally in the Bekaa Valley village of Mashgara.
For the owner of a clothing shop in Burj al-Barajneh, Hezbollah fighters battling in Qusair are no different than those who fought against Israel in 2006.
“Hezbollah is protecting us and protecting Lebanon,” he said. “We defended ourselves against Israel and we are doing the same thing now against those takfiri groups.”
Hezbollah and the Syrian regime refer to the Syrian rebels as “takfiri,” an extreme form of Islam that considers Muslims who do not subscribe to their ideologies as infidels.
“They are planning to enter Lebanon and fight us, we are making a pre-emptive strike,” he added.