HERMEL, Lebanon: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri blasted Tuesday Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting in Syria as “a crime” against Lebanon, while categorically rejecting Salafist calls for a jihad to defend Sunnis in the neighboring war-torn country.
“Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting in Syria is an involvement in defense of the Syrian regime, regardless of the sectarian and factional excuses that the party is using to justify this crime that will drag Lebanon into the fire which [Syrian President] Bashar Assad has warned he will spread in the region,” Hariri said in a statement released by his office.
“Who tasked Hezbollah with defending a segment of the Lebanese in Syria if this was its excuse?
“And who tasked it with defending a segment of Syrians if this was also its excuse?” Hariri asked.
Hariri, who supports the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime, said Hezbollah’s actions were “dragging Lebanon and the Lebanese into the game of death,” as wanted by the Syrian regime.
“This crime proves again the actual purpose of Hezbollah’s arms in Lebanon and Syria and shows where the decision to use the arms lies,” he added.
Hariri’s statement came a day after Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, deputy head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, defended the party’s role in helping Lebanese Shiites living in Syrian border towns and villages to protect themselves against Syrian rebel assaults, saying this was “a national duty.”
Hezbollah, which denies involvement in the 2-year-old war in Syria, has said it is helping Lebanese Shiites living in Syrian border towns to defend themselves against rebel attacks. The party has held several funerals in the past months for fighters who were killed in battles against rebel groups in the Syrian town of Al-Qusair in the Homs province near the border with Lebanon.
Media reports have also said that Hezbollah fighters were present in Damascus with the declared aim of protecting the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab and in the suburbs of Aleppo.
Hariri also rejected calls by Sidon’s Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir and Tripoli’s Salafist preacher Sheikh Salem Rafei for a jihad to defend Sunnis in the town of Al-Qusair.
“Such calls will achieve Bashar Assad’s declared goal to push Lebanon and other states in the region into the Syrian fire,” the head of the Future Movement said.
“I call on all Lebanese to express through all peaceful means their rejection to participate in such a crime. I announce my total rejection of any reactionary step such as the calls for a jihad or sectarian mobilization, whether it came from Sidon, Tripoli or anywhere else in Lebanon,” Hariri added. He urged all the Lebanese to confront “the madness that some want Lebanon to engage in and consequently fall into strife, whose instigators would be cursed by history.”
Hariri’s Future parliamentary bloc also condemned Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict and rejected Salafist calls for a jihad in Syria.
It said Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war was part of a larger crime aimed at dragging Lebanon into “a bloody, regional conflict that the Lebanese and Hezbollah’s supporters themselves don’t want, nor have the energy to engage in.”
“The deplorable crime and the big sin committed by Hezbollah has led to statements in the past few hours from Sidon, Tripoli and other areas in Lebanon refusing to participate in the fighting in Syria,” the bloc said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting. It called on Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria.
The bloc also condemned shelling and rocket attacks targeting Lebanese towns in the north and the Bekaa Valley by the Syrian regime or by Syrian rebels. It demanded that the Lebanese Army, with the help of the U.N. peacekeeping force UNIFIL, be deployed along the Lebanese border to prevent attacks by the Syrian regime, rebels as well as “Hezbollah’s criminal adventures.”
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea linked Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria to Iran which, he said, was fighting for greater influence in the region.
Geagea questioned Hezbollah’s motives to defend what he described as only farms with a small population.
He argued that the party’s involvement in Syria was aimed at protecting Iran from the consequences of the collapse of the Syrian regime.
In a televised news conference from his Maarab residence, Geagea said the logic Hezbollah maintained in justifying its involvement in Al-Qusair was flawed because it would allow other groups to defend their people and religious sites.
Describing Hezbollah’s fight against Syrian rebels as strategic, Geagea linked the party’s behavior to Iran’s fight for greater influence in the region. “Hezbollah has been interfering in a strategic manner in Syria in the last two months,” he said.
Meanwhile, two rockets fired by Syrian rebels struck the Bekaa Valley border city of Hermel, causing damage but no casualties.
Security sources told The Daily Star that the rockets, fired less than 30 minutes apart, fell near the privately owned Assi Hospital in Hermel.
At 9:20 a.m., the first rocket slammed into a house under construction, only 200 meters from the hospital. The house belongs to policeman Mehdi Shamas.
At 9:45 a.m., another rocket landed in an orchard owned by Adnan Murtada and which lies some 500 meters away from Assi Hospital.
The rocket attack comes as tensions escalated in Hermel following repeated cross-border rocket fire targeting the city and nearby towns in the Bekaa Valley.
Two rockets slammed Sunday into the heart of Hermel for the first time, heightening fears that the war in Syria was spilling over into Lebanon.