Hezbollah escalates rhetoric, hints at possible Syria intervention

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The chief of Lebanese Shiite Muslim party Hezbollah, a close Damascus ally, said on Tuesday that Syria’s friends would not let the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad fall.

“Syria has true friends in the region who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of the United States, Israel and ‘takfiri’ groups,” Hassan Nasrallah said, referring to Sunni Muslims fighting to overthrow Assad.

Reports have emerged that Hezbollah fighters were fighting with Assad forces against rebels in Shiite villages near the Lebanon border. However, Nasrallah’s comments on Tuesday were the strongest indication yet that his group was ready to get more substantially involved to rescue Assad’s government.

In his speech, Nasrallah said the Syrian opposition fighting pro-Assad forces will not be able to topple the Syrian president militarily, adding that dialogue was their only way out.

“The Syrian opposition is the one refusing dialogue. Whoever wants to resolve the Syrian crisis, a political solution is the only way," he said.

Meanwhile, Nasrallah also said that armed rebel groups battling Assad pose a “threat” to Lebanese residents living near border towns.

“A large number of [rebels] was preparing to capture villages inhabited by Lebanese,” so it was “normal to offer every possible and necessary aid to help the Syrian army, popular committees (pro-government militia) and the Lebanese,” Nasrallah said.

“The Lebanese state is incapable of protecting Lebanese towns near the Syrian border.”

“Defending them doesn’t need a decision from anyone. We won’t leave town residents without any help.”

Accusations against Hezbollah

Hezbollah denies it has sent guerrillas to fight alongside Assad’s forces inside Syria, but has held regular funerals for fighters it said were carrying out “jihadi duties.” It says any Hezbollah fighters involved are local Shiite residents of Lebanese villages inside Syria, defending their territory.

Nasrallah said that his fighters had a duty to protect the holy Shiite shrine of Sayida Zeinab in southern Damascus.

“If the shrine is destroyed, things will get out of control,” Nasrallah said, citing the 2006 bombing of the Shiite al-Askari shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra.

Nasrallah also addressed during his Tuesday speech accusations that Iranian forces were taking part in the Syrian clashes, which have killed at least 70,000 people, according to the United Nations.

“Everyone knows there are no Iranian forces in Syria but only experts,” the Hezbollah chief said.

“What do you imagine would happen in the future if things deteriorate in a way that requires the intervention of the forces of resistance in this battle?”

Hezbollah has an arsenal that is the most powerful military force in Lebanon, stronger than the national army. Its growing involvement in the Syrian civil war is already raising tensions inside the divided country and has drawn threats from enraged Syrian rebels and militants.

A parliamentarian from Lebanon’s Future bloc criticized Nasrallah’s statements and interference in the Syrian conflict.

“Nasrallah is talking as if he was Bashar al-Assad’s chief-of-staff,” Mouin al-Merhebi told Al Arabiya news channel. “No one tasked Nasrallah with defending the towns near the border.”

“If [Nasrallah] is talking about being humanitarian, then he should fight against Assad who kills hundreds [of civilians] every day.”

“Bashar al-Assad is a criminal and a killer.”