BAALBEK/BEIRUT: Clashes in Syria close to the Lebanese border between rebels and fighters loyal to the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian regime, are now a near daily occurrence, local people report.
Activists have long accused Hezbollah, a long-time recipient of support from Syria, of joining the fight to crush the 19-month insurgency against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
The fighting is taking place in Syrian villages inhabited mainly by Lebanese, in an area where the common border is not well-defined and where many villages actually straddle the frontier.
“Our villages are being attacked by rebels who want to enter, and we defend ourselves,” a resident of Zeita, whose village has seen frequent clashes, told AFP Wednesday, requesting anonymity.
Clashes are taking place “in some 20 Shiite villages in [the central Syrian province of] Homs, which are inhabited by some 30,000 people,” he added.
Assad is an Alawite, a sect that is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
“More than 5,000 armed men are protecting our villages, and most of them are close to Hezbollah,” the resident said. “Some 16 fighters have been killed since the start of the conflict.”
Rebels also report frequent clashes. “Hezbollah transports weapons and ammunition across the border in ambulances, day and night,” said Fahd al-Masri, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army’s joint command. “They take the international road, without stopping at the border post.”
Asked by reporters during his Beirut visit Wednesday about Hezbollah’s role in Syria, international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi replied: “Nobody has discussed this with me, not today, not previously.”
Last Thursday, Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah said the party had taken no decision to enter the fighting in Syria but that some Lebanese living there had taken up arms to support the regime “in order to defend themselves.”
“The party has nothing to do with their decision, but I cannot tell them not to go fight,” Nasrallah said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian army claims to have discovered underground tunnels linking Syrian and Lebanese border towns, a security source told The Daily Star Wednesday.
“The Syrian army discovered tunnels linking the Syrian town of Jousiyeh to the Lebanese border town of Masharih al-Qaa,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
According to the source, regime forces discovered the tunnels in Jousiyeh after they tightened their grip on the town following a long battle with rebels.
“The regime forces were able to seize about 75 percent of the town,” the source said.
Separately, security sources told The Daily Star that four Syrians were admitted Thursday to a local hospital in Lebanon’s Baalbek, after being severely wounded in clashes between regime forces and rebels.
The sources said that the Syrians had been in military clothing, but did not indicate whether they were soldiers in the regime forces or members of the Free Syrian Army.
They added that the wounded had been transferred to Dar al-Amal hospital in Dawras, Baalbek, through the Masharih al-Qaa border area.
The four men were identified as Mahmoud Hussein Amer, Mohammad Abdelbari al-Masri, Kamal Nemer Abu Hamoud and Mahmoud Amer.