Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Hezbollah 'drags Lebanon into war'

Lebanese army investigators inspect the site of a car bomb explosion (AP)

One of Lebanon's most powerful Sunni politicians has accused the leader of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah of dragging the country further into neighbouring Syria's civil war.

Former prime minister Saad Hariri's comments come two days after a deadly car bombing struck a Hezbollah neighbourhood south of Beirut. Many people in Lebanon viewed the blast as retaliation for Hezbollah's armed support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

In a speech on Thursday, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah blamed Sunni extremists for the bombing and defiantly said he was prepared to double the number of his fighters in Syria if the bombing turns out to be linked to his group's intervention there.

Mr Hariri responded, saying Mr Nasrallah's address "did not break the cycle of tension" in the country but rather "drags Lebanon further into the Syrian fire, and it is a pity to squander the blood of Lebanese in such a way".

In comments posted on his Twitter account and confirmed by his office, Mr Hariri also said that Thursday's bombing, which killed nearly two dozen people in the Hezbollah stronghold of Rweiss, was "surely an ugly crime, but Hezbollah's war in Syria is a crime as well".

Sectarian tensions have worsened dramatically in Lebanon since Hezbollah openly declared it was fighting alongside Mr Assad's troops to help crush a rebellion by Syria's Sunni majority. Lebanese Sunnis support the rebels fighting to topple Mr Assad, who is a member of a Shiite offshoot sect.

Lebanon appears increasingly fragile in the face of the civil war raging next door. In the more than two years since it began, Syria's conflict has spilled over into Lebanon on multiple occasions. Artillery fire and missiles have struck Lebanese border villages, while clashes between Lebanese factions that support opposite sides have left dozens dead.

Now, Beirut's southern suburbs are the scene of car bombings. The powerful explosion that hit the Hezbollah stronghold of Rweiss on Thursday killed at least 22 people.

It was the second in just over a month to strike one of the Shiite group's bastions of support, and the deadliest in decades.

Syrian rebels have threatened to retaliate against Hezbollah for intervening on behalf of Assad. Against that backdrop, Thursday's attack raises the worrying spectre of Lebanon being dragged further into the Syrian civil war.

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