A Free Syrian Army brigade on Sunday pledged to defend the flashpoint town of Qusayr and fend off attacks from Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
The pledge, from the FSA’s al-Farouq brigade, came after violence in the town triggered the Syrian National Council (SNC) to sound the alarm and issue a statement urging the FSA to increase its reinforcements in Qusayr.
The SNC also warned of the "responsibility" that will befall on the FSA if Hezbollah raids Qusayr.
The al-Farouq brigade is considered to be one of the strongest rebel armed groups in the country's center. Although it first operated in Homs where it was established, it is now deployed in a number of Syrian governorates.
Battles are fierce in Qusayr between the FSA and Hezbollah, as the Lebanese Shiite group’s fighters are being aided by the regime's warplanes and tanks.
Hezbollah – an ally of the Assad regime – has repeatedly denied taking part in Syria’s two-year conflict – which has killed at least 70,000 people, according to the U.N.
However, the group has held regular funerals for Hezbollah fighters, who – it said – were killed serving their “jihadist duties.”
On Saturday, FSA spokesman Louay al-Mokdad said some residents in Qusayr have said Hezbollah was using artillery shells containing fatal Mustard Gas in the area.
His statement follows reports by activists that Hezbollah, along with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have been using chemical weapons against the armed opposition and residents in Syria.
Al-Mokdad added that the FSA is still “investigating the reports” before it makes an official announcement, noting however, that there have been cases of asphyxiation, a symptom of Mustard Gas inhalation, which may indicate the use of chemical weapons.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said earlier this week that Syria’s friends would not let Assad’s embattled regime 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,” Nasrallah said, referring to Sunni Muslims fighting to overthrow Assad.
The Hezbollah chief’s comments were the strongest indication yet that his group was ready to get more substantially involved to rescue Assad’s government.
Nasrallah also 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.
In response to the Hezbollah chief’s recent statements, al-Mokdad said that Shiites and the Sayida Zeinab shrine have existed in Syria for hundreds of years without the Lebanese group’s protection.
“No one tasked Hezbollah, Iran or Assad to protect the Shiite shrine. Hezbollah is using these sectarian excuses to drag Lebanese youth into the Syrian conflict,” Almokdad said.
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