Clashes on the Syrian border with Lebanon have killed three Lebanese Shiites and five Syrian opposition fighters, in the latest violence to take place in the territory, according to a Hezbollah official.
“Two Lebanese Shiites living in Syria were killed and at least 14 others wounded in clashes with rebels,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, later adding that one of the wounded had also died.
Meanwhile, Hadi al-Abdallah of the Syrian Revolution General Commission told Reuters news agency that fighting broke out on Saturday after Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, who are in control of eight Syrian border villages, tried to expand their sphere by moving into three adjacent Sunni villages that were in the hands of the rebel Syrian Free Army.
“The Hezbollah force moved on foot and was supported by multiple rocket launchers. The Free Syrian Army had to call in two tanks that had been captured from the Assad army to repel the attack,” Abdallah said.
Shiite Muslim Hezbollah fighters based in the Bekaa Valley on the other side of the border, which is not demarcated, moved into the area last year. Four of the villages they had captured are inhabited by co-religionists while the other four villages are mixed with Sunni Muslim and Shiite residents.
Just hours before the clashes, the main bloc of the Syrian opposition accused the staunch Damascus ally of having intervened “militarily” on the side of the regime, and warned this posed a threat to ties between neighbors Syria and Lebanon.
The Syrian National Council said that Hezbollah members on Saturday attacked “three Syrian villages in the Qusayr region near the Lebanese border” with full knowledge of the regular army.
The operation in Homs province resulted in “civilian casualties and the exodus of hundreds of people,” and also “stoked sectarian tensions” in the area, the SNC said in a statement.
While Hezbollah is a Shiite party, most of the Syrian population and the rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime are Sunni.
This is a “serious threat to Syrian-Lebanese relations and regional peace and security,” the SNC said, adding the Beirut government carried the responsibility to end this “aggression”.
The Shiite party, Lebanon’s most powerful military force, occasionally announces the death of one of its fighters killed “carrying out his jihadist duty,” but without clarification.
In October 2012, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged that party members had fought Syrian rebels but said they were acting as individuals and not under the party’s direction.
Syrian rebels on Sunday captured army checkpoints near Nayrab military airport in the northern city of Aleppo, in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and in central Hama province, a watchdog said.
In Aleppo, fierce clashes took place between Syrian troops and several rebel battalions, which resulted in the insurgents taking over the checkpoint near Nayrab airport, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Nayrab is adjacent to Aleppo international airport, a key target for the rebels, who have also been battling troops guarding Kweyris military airbase east of the city and Menegh airbase to the north.
The Observatory, which collects its reports from a network of activists and medics in civilian and military hospitals on the ground, said at least six soldiers and a number of rebels were killed in Sunday's fighting.
Lebanon was dominated politically and militarily by its larger neighbor Syria for three decades until 2005 and is sharply divided over the Syrian revolt, which erupted in March 2011 and has left nearly 70,000 dead according to the U.N.