BEIRUT: Syrian rebels said they have detained 13 Hezbollah members and threatened to take the fight to Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut’s southern suburbs unless the party ends its support for President Bashar Assad’s regime.
“We [vow] to take the battle in Syria to the heart of the [Beirut] southern suburbs if [Hezbollah] does not stop supporting the killer-Syrian regime,” Free Syrian Army spokesman Fahd al-Masri told media outlets Tuesday.
He said the FSA is holding 13 Hezbollah members in a village near Homs for their involvement in the Syria conflict.
“They [the Hezbollah detainees] have confessed to killing and slaughtering [people] in Syria,” Masri said, indicating that most of the captives come from Baalbek and Hermel in the Bekaa Valley.
Masri stressed that Hezbollah is “deeply involved” in the fighting in Syria and said that the fate of the 13 detained men was “in the hands of [FSA] field commanders.”
Hezbollah “is involved in the killing of the Syrian people and in suppressing the revolution, particularly in Damascus and Homs,” Masri said.
“Hezbollah focuses [its operations] on Damascus’ Zabadani area given that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has a military base there,” he said. “They also have a huge presence in Qusayr and Talbiseh.”
Responding to Masri’s comments, Hezbollah bloc MP Kamel Rifai denied that members of the resistance group were being sent to fight alongside the Syrian army.
“The party has a basic rule that forbids fighting anyone other than Israel and thus it bans its elements from fighting in Syria,” Rifai told The Daily Star Tuesday.
“There are Shiites living in Syria, but that does not make them Hezbollah [fighters],” he added.
In an apparent response to Rifai, Masri told the Lebanese MTV channel later Tuesday that the 13 Hezbollah men were arrested in their military uniforms.
“They were armed and in military uniform when they were captured in Homs’ countryside,” Masri said.
“They were not pilgrims and not on a tour.”
He held Hezbollah fully responsible and said the Shiite group “must not drag Lebanon into lost battles.”
“Funerals were held for four Hezbollah members who died at a military training camp as well as three others who passed away in the Nabi Sheet explosion,” Rifai said.
“None of them were involved in the Syrian fighting as has been rumored.”
Last week, Hezbollah said three of its fighters were killed in an explosion at a munitions depot in Nabi Sheet in east Lebanon.
Hezbollah buried Monday one its fighters who a security source said was killed in the border area with Syria.
Hussein Abdel Ghani al-Nimr, 35, died “performing his jihadist duty,” a Hezbollah spokesman said.
Nimr’s death comes less than a week after a senior Hezbollah commander, whom Syrian rebels said was killed in Syria, was buried in the Bekaa.
Hezbollah has announced several similar burials in past month without revealing details about the deaths.
The Future Movement bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on security and judicial authorities to look into the death of Hezbollah fighters in Syria, describing as “weak” the group’s argument that the fighters died while defending Lebanese nationals living in Syria.
A statement issued by the bloc accused Hezbollah of dragging the Lebanese and Syrian people into a conflict with dangerous consequences by siding with the Assad regime.
“A quick investigation is required, especially since Hezbollah is a key partner in the current government which claims to adopt a dissociation policy vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis,” the statement said.
The Future Movement bloc added that Hezbollah had also agreed on the “Baabda Declaration,” which stipulates keeping Lebanon away from the conflict in Syria.
“The bloc also strongly condemns threats by some members of the Syrian opposition to target Lebanese areas in the southern suburbs of Beirut,” the statement added, referring to the Syrian rebels’ threats.
The Future bloc said the death of three Hezbollah members in last week’s arms cache explosion in Nabi Sheet is an “unfortunate incident,” calling on the group to hand over all its arms depots to the Lebanese Army to avoid similar incidents that “put the lives, security and stability of Lebanese citizens at risk.”
On the contrary, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun said there is no reason to be alarmed by the weapons cache.
Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, said it is normal for the group to store its arms supplies in different areas and locations.
The FPM leader, speaking to reporters following a meeting of his Reform and Change parliamentary bloc Tuesday, refused to comment on the alleged deaths of Hezbollah fighters in Syria.
Meanwhile, a Lebanese security source said dozens of Syrian rebels have fled to Lebanon over the past two days as a result of a military crackdown by the Syrian army in the province of Homs.
“Dozens of opposition gunmen have entered the country through Mashareeh al-Qaa in the past two days since the beginning of the military operation in Qusayr [Homs province],” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar reported that a Syrian army crackdown in Qusayr forced “hundreds” of rebels to flee into Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the National News Agency said that a large number of Syrians fled to Lebanon through its northeastern border as a result of a Syrian army drive to pursue the rebels.
The NNA said the Syrians were fleeing through to Masharih al-Qaa and that the Lebanese Army had beefed up its presence along the border.