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4,000 Hezbollah fighters reach rebel-held Aleppo: FSA

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad carry their weapons as they move during what they said was an operation to push rebels from the road between Dahra Abd Rabbo village and Castello in Aleppo May 27, 2013. REUTERS/George Ourfalian (SYRIA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS CONFLICT)

BEIRUT: Over 4,000 fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah have reached the northern Syrian city of Aleppo as part of military preparations to retake the rebel-held city, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army told The Daily Star Tuesday.

“The number of Hezbollah members who have entered Aleppo has exceeded 4,000,” Louay Meqdad, the FSA spokesman, said.

“They are stationed at the Military Engineering Academy in what seems to be preparations for an attack on the city of Aleppo,” he added.

The FSA spokesman said some 800 members of the Lebanese resistance group were staying at a student campus located in Hamadanieh, southeast Aleppo.

Despite the large number of Hezbollah fighters, Meqdad said he did not foresee a change in the balance of power in the war-ravaged city, more than half of which has been under rebel control since 2012.

“Hezbollah’s participation in Aleppo’s battle will not affect the balance of power because the opposition forces are well barricaded in their positions,” he said.

According to Meqdad, Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria showed that Syrian government forces were unable to confront the FSA by themselves.

“The expansion of Hezbollah’s military operations in Syria to Aleppo confirms that the regime’s troops are exhausted and need support,” he said.

Hezbollah has admitted to participating in military engagements in Syria, namely against the rebel-held town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon. The party alleges its intervention in Syria aims to protect the resistance group as well as defend Lebanon from the threat of takfiri groups fighting in Syria.

The number of Hezbollah fighters in Syria is unknown.

France said last week its intelligence services believed between 3,000 and 4,000 Hezbollah members were fighting alongside Assad's army in Syria. Other reports have mentioned the presence of around 10,000 Hezbollah fighters in the war-torn country.

Meqdad estimated the presence of about 10 to 12,000 fighters that were either members of Hezbollah or foreigners who had been trained by the resistance group.

He said some of the combatants were from Iraq who had been recruited and received training by the Lebanese resistance group.

On the situation in Qusair, Meqdad said Syrian rebels were vacating areas targeted by Syrian airstrikes but then soon returning to these locations to carry on with the fight.

“When they return, they re-engage Hezbollah fighters and regime troops and then restore control of the neighborhood,” Meqdad said.

“This is why the regime always claims it has taken control of the same neighborhood more than once,” Meqdad, noting the rebel tactic of temporarily retreating from an area, said.

He also said rebels held the advantage in Qusair, given their knowledge of the town and its neighborhoods as well as support from residents.

Last month, Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, declared his fighters were committed to the conflict in Syria.

"We will be the ones who bring victory," Nasrallah said.

 

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