|Funerals in Lebanon for Hezbollah fighters killed in Qusayr, including Fadi al-Jazzar's (top)|
Hezbollah -- Iran’s Shiite militia in Lebanon -- seems to have been dealt a body blow in its biggest battle yet in the Syria war.
Since Sunday, at least 40 of its militiamen were killed trying to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army retake the rebel-held town of Qusayr near the Lebanese border.
Beirut’s independent daily al-Nahar today puts at 38 Hezbollah’s death toll in Qusayr.
For weeks, fighting has raged around the town in the central province of Homs that has been under rebel control since early last year.
The intensity of the fighting reflects the importance both sides attach to Qusayr and its environs.
For Syrian army planners, Qusayr lies along a strategic land corridor linking Damascus with the Mediterranean coast, heartland of Assad's Alawite sect.
For the rebels, the overwhelmingly Sunni Qusayr has served as a conduit for shipments of supplies smuggled from Lebanon to opposition fighters inside Syria.
Speaking by satellite from Istanbul, the opposition Free Syrian Army’s Brig. Gen. Abdelhamid Zakariya told Alarabiya TV news channel viewers that reinforcements reached the rebels in Qusayr overnight.
“I assure you,” he said, “Qusayr will not fall” to the Syrian army and its Hezbollah allies.
U.S. President Barack Obama told Lebanese President Michel Suleiman in a phone call on Monday he was concerned about Hezbollah militants fighting in Syria to support Assad.
"President Obama expressed his appreciation to President Suleiman and the Lebanese people for keeping Lebanon's borders open and hosting refugees from Syria, and pledged continued U.S. support to help Lebanon manage this challenge," the White House said in a statement summarizing their phone call.
It said the two leaders agreed, "All parties should respect Lebanon's policy of disassociation from the conflict in Syria and avoid actions that will involve the Lebanese people in the conflict. President Obama stressed his concern about Hezbollah’s active and growing role in Syria, fighting on behalf of the Assad regime, which is counter to the Lebanese government’s policies.”
At the State Department’s press briefing yesterday, Patrick Ventrell also told reporters:
“The United States strongly condemns the Assad regime’s intense air and artillery strikes this weekend on the Syrian town of Qusayr, along the Lebanese border, where more than 90 people were reportedly killed. The Assad regime deliberately provoked sectarian tensions through its assaults, which we saw recently in Sunni massacres in the towns of Bayada and Banias. We reject the regime’s use of sectarian-driver war to divide the Syrian people. The Assad regime and its supporters who continue to commit crimes against the Syrian people should know that the world is watching and they will be identified and held accountable.
“We also condemn Hezbollah’s direct intervention in the assault on Qusayr, where its fighters are playing a significant role in the regime’s offensive. Hezbollah’s occupation of villages along the Lebanese-Syrian border and its support for the regime and pro-Assad militias exacerbate and inflame regional sectarian tensions and perpetuate the regime’s campaign of terror against the Syrian people. We reject Hezbollah’s efforts to escalate violence inside Syria and incite instability in Lebanon. We continue to fully support Lebanon’s stated policy of disassociation from the Syrian crisis, and urge all parties in the region to act with restraint and respect for Lebanon’s stability and security.”
|Syria's Mufti Hassoun in Iqlim al Tuffah|
Evidence of the high casualty toll suffered by Hezbollah in the battle for Qusayr over the past two days includes:
- Publication on Facebook of the names, hometowns and portraits of 40 Hezbollah men killed in Qusayr in the last 48 hours
- A high number of funeral processions in predominantly Shiite areas of Lebanon, specially the Bekaa Valley, with pictures of dead fighters posted on windshields and mourners waving yellow Hezbollah flags
- Crowds gathering outside hospitals in the Bekaa and in the courtyard of al-Rasoul al-Aazam Hospital near Beirut airport in addition to the hospitals’ appeals for blood to treat the wounded brought back to Lebanon
- The surprise whistle-stop visit of Syria’s Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun to Lebanon’s Hezbollah-controlled Iqlim al-Tuffah, where he offered condolences to families of Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria
- A commentary and a feature article on the front page of Beirut daily al-Akhbar, which speaks for the so-called “Axis of Resistance.” The commentary justifies Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria. The feature article quotes relatives and friends hailing the sacrifices of their loved one there.
Al-Akhbar publisher Ibrahim al-Amin writes in part under the title “Hezbollah in Syria”:
Those opposing Hezbollah’s political stance and its fighting alongside the regime in Syria are those precluding Hezbollah from any role in Lebanon. They wish the Party of God would transform into a charity organization. They would be more than happy to throw a celebratory event in its honor if it were to give up its arms. They never stood by Hezbollah at the pinnacle of its resistance to Israel…
Hezbollah is now fighting terrorists in Syria…
Frankly, Hezbollah, its leaders, its cadres, its fighters and its masses never wished to fight in Syria. But it won’t be long before many thank Hezbollah for what it is doing there today.
Also in al-Akhbar, Ms Suha Zarakit writes about “Hezbollah and the duty of Jihadist martyrdom” saying in part:
Funerals for Hezbollah martyrs were never as sorrowful… because the Resistance fighters fell in a battle they never planned to wage.
For two days, many in the Resistance family hardly shut their eyes as they kept clinging to their mobiles and waiting for news of the battle for Qusayr…
What was hushed in the previous month came out in the open yesterday. People kept exchanging photos from the frontline, hurrahs, prayers for the Resistance fighters, and encouragements to donate blood… They recalled the Hezbollah fighters’ heroics in the (South Lebanon security zone) liberation war in 2000 and the victory of 2006 (in the Israel-Lebanon war)…
How can the battle for Qusayr not be just when its objective is to protect the Resistance’s back...?
One of the Hezbollah operatives killed in Qusayr and buried yesterday was Fadi el-Jazzar, a Beirut-born Palestinian who served 14 years in jail in Israel for a border attack in 1991, before being released in a prisoner exchange.
In early 2004, Jazzar was released by Israel, along with 434 other prisoners, including Mustafa Dirani and Abdel Karim Obeid, in exchange for Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli businessman who was kidnapped by Hezbollah and held hostage for three years, and the bodies of three IDF soldiers.