BEIRUT: Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warned Thursday that Syria and the region were threatened with “schemes of division and partition,” backing a political solution to end the conflict in Lebanon’s neighbor.
“From Yemen to Iraq to Syria, the region is threatened more than ever by partition, even in Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia,” Nasrallah said, during a televised speech in Baalbek in front of thousands of party supporters.
The head of the resistance group also warned against politicizing the case of the growing number of Syrians fleeing to Lebanon, saying Lebanon should deal with their plight on a humanitarian basis.
“I’m not asking the Lebanese government to abandon its disassociation policy ... but to develop Lebanon’s political stance in order to exert pressure and help those who support a political reconciliation and dialogue in Syria,” Nasrallah said.
Lebanon has adopted a policy of disassociation toward events in Syria given the deep political divisions in the country on how to approach the increasingly violent conflict in which the U.N. estimates over 60,000 people have been killed so far.
Nasrallah also praised the government, in which it is a dominant force, as well as his party on their policies toward the unrest in Syria, saying they had spared Lebanon from the repercussions from the 21-month-old conflict.
“It’s thanks to our stance and the stance of the current Lebanese government with regard to the Syrian crisis that fighting in Syria has been prevented from spreading to us,” he said.
His remarks came during a ceremony in Baalbek to mark the 40 days that follow Ashoura commemorations over the slaying of Imam Hussein in 680 A.D.
In his speech Nasrallah also slammed the March 14 alliance, which fervently opposes Assad, accusing it of trying to bring the conflict in Syria across the border into Lebanon.
“If the other team were in government, it would have involved Lebanon in fighting inside Lebanon and in Syria,” said Nasrallah, one of Assad’s strongest supporters in Lebanon.
Turning to the growing presence of Syrian refugees in the country, which has provoked mixed responses, Nasrallah insisted that they should be dealt in a humanitarian manner and rejected the idea of closing the border.
“We should deal with the presence of Syrian refugees in a purely humanitarian manner and not politicize it,” he said. “Syrian families should be taken care of by the Lebanese government, whether they are with the opposition or the regime or in between.”
“And if there are reservations on politicizing this issue then we should listen to these remarks and take them into consideration,” Nasrallah added, in an apparent reference to recent complaints by Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim Ali.
Ali has sent two complaints to Lebanese officials over what he describes as discrimination by the Social Affairs Ministry toward Syrian refugees in Lebanon on the basis of their political affiliations. The ministry has denied the allegations.
Nasrallah said a political solution in Syria would help stop the bloodshed there and pave the way for refugees to return home, while urging the government to appeal to various states and bodies to help ease the strains. “The Lebanese Cabinet should appeal to the U.S., the Europeans, U.N., and Arab League and tell them that their approach to the Syrian crisis is only putting pressure on Lebanon that the country cannot handle [the burden] in terms of security, society and the economy,” Nasrallah said.
The Hezbollah leader also touched on the case of the remaining nine Lebanese pilgrims being held in Syria and called on the government to negotiate directly with the kidnappers after it failed to secure their release using Turkish mediators.
“The way the government has dealt with this case isn’t satisfactory, with all due to respect to the efforts by officials ... but now is the time to directly negotiate with the kidnappers and designate a Lebanese official to do so,” he added.
Eleven Shiite Lebanese pilgrims were kidnapped in northern Syria on May 22 last year as they were making their way back by land from a pilgrimage in Iran. One of the hostages was released in late August and another in September.
Their relatives have held a series of protests in recent days, voicing their frustration over the lack of progress in securing the release of their loved ones.
In a brief statement following Nasrallah’s speech and before taking part in a Cabinet meeting, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said the government was in fact negotiating directly with the Syrian abductors.
The minister also reiterated his request for Turkey to help in the release of the remaining hostages.
“We hope the Turks will help Lebanon [free the hostages] just as Lebanon helped it [Ankara] secure the release of the kidnapped” Turkish citizens on Lebanese soil, Charbel said in remarks to a local radio station.
Charbel renewed his hopes that the men would be released despite difficulties.
“There are opportunities that can be expanded to win their freedom,” he said, without elaborating.
The kidnappers have demanded that Nasrallah apologize to the Syrian people for supporting the Syrian regime.
Nasrallah outlined challenges that his party would face in 2013, during a “very dangerous phase.” He denounced what he said were attempts by Israel and the U.S. to suffocate Hezbollah politically and cut off its funding, calling them futile.
“In the coming year, we will face many challenges as the Americans and Israelis are besieging us with efforts to place Hezbollah on the European Union’s terrorist list, restricting the group’s movement in Latin America and so on,” Nasrallah said.
“All these efforts will be in vain ... you will never erase our memory in history,” he added.
The Hezbollah leader continued that his group was also ready to draft and put in place a strategy to protect the country’s oil and gas wealth.
“We call on the state to put forward a national strategic plan and if they want to leave it up to us, we are ready [to defend Lebanon’s fossil fuel resources],” he said.
“In order to protect the national oil resources, the resistance is ready to do whatever is asked of it,” Nasrallah said, describing the potential reserves as “a national, historic opportunity to lift Lebanon” out of its socioeconomic crisis.